May 23, 2011
For awhile it seemed like Jason Statham, Vin Diesel and The Rock were going to represent the new generation of action heroes for the new Millennium. Initially, all three men were well on their way until Diesel got mired in the Fast & Furious franchise and The Rock started to make forgettable family comedies. Only Statham managed to stay relevant with the highly entertaining and successful Transporter films and the gonzo cult Crank films. After a successful supporting role in Sylvester Stallone’s action opus, The Expendables (2010), Statham decided to star in a remake of the Charles Bronson crime thriller The Mechanic (1972) in 2011. Your enjoyment of this film will really be dependent on how highly you regard the original.
The film’s prologue introduces us to Statham’s character – Arthur Bishop, a hitman who kills his targets and makes their deaths look like accidents – with the kind no-nonsense efficiency we’ve come to expect from his films. When he’s not killing guys, Arthur listens to classical music and has sex with his favorite prostitute in New Orleans. His employer (Goldwyn) hires him to kill his mentor (Sutherland) for botching a job but it all seems a little too convenient. After Arthur kills him, he crosses paths with the man’s ne’er-do-well son Steve (Foster) who thinks that his father was killed by carjackers (that’s how Arthur made it look). Understandably upset and lacking any direction in life, Steve asks Arthur to teach him all he knows and, wracked with guilt, Arthur grudgingly agrees.
Not surprisingly, Steve’s inexperience hinders him initially. In a rather brutal sequence, he stupidly tries to take out a target utilizing his own rough-around-the-edges technique instead of the way Arthur instructed and he barely survives the bloody and brutal fight. The Mechanic builds to a predictable conflict between Arthur and his employer as the latter ends up betraying the former – much carnage ensues.
Jason Statham can do this kind of role in his sleep and plugs along gamely with the same kind of grim determination he instills in all of his characters while Ben Foster almost invests too much in his role, grunging himself down as the unlikable apprentice to Statham’s ruthless assassin. It’s like the filmmakers took Steve from a much better film and plugged him into this one. Foster gives Steve a surprisingly amount of emotional depth and complexity. He single-handedly makes The Mechanic worth watching whenever he’s on-screen.
The filmmakers enjoy rubbing our faces a little too much in this ugly world where all the targets are disgusting human beings – pedophiles, religious zealots and drug dealers – so that we don’t feel bad when they are killed in brutally awful ways. The one prominent female character’s (if you can call her that) sole purpose in the film is to service Arthur sexually. Lewis John Carlino and Richard Wenk’s screenplay, while lean and mean, leaves too many loose ends and unanswered questions, chief among them Steve’s true motivations. However, in this case, the ambiguity surprisingly works and feels more authentic instead of spelling it all out, but I think this is due more to Foster’s performance than the script itself. In its own brutally efficient way, The Mechanic delivers all the requisite action you would expect along with Simon West’s stylish direction.
There are five deleted and extended scenes. Included is slightly more action in the film’s prologue, which was unnecessary and rightly excised. There is also more of Arthur and his mentor meeting in a diner, which fleshes out their relationship more but also spells things out a little too much.
Finally, there is “Tools of the Trade: Inside the Action,” a making of featurette. Statham says he was drawn to the smart script. We see footage of the action star performing his own stunts, including jumping off a 35 floor building! Not to be outdone, Foster did it as well, despite his fear of heights. We also see him do his big fight scene with an injured shoulder. It is good to see that no CGI was involved in the film’s impressively staged stunts.