Mechanic, The (United States, 2011)

January 25, 2011
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Mechanic, The Poster

Simon West's The Mechanic is a loose remake of the 1972 film starring Charles Bronson. In addition to updating various aspects of the story, the filmmakers have changed elements (most notably the ending) in an attempt to make it more audience friendly. Overall, the 2011 version of The Mechanic is superior when it comes to presenting action scenes and keeping the overall energy level high. It is noticeably inferior, however, on a psychological level, and the storyline suffers from several hiccups. The Mechanic is adequate light entertainment for those who enjoy thrillers, but it is uneven and the underwhelming ending will disappoint those who enjoyed the delicious irony served up by its predecessor.

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is a paid assassin who hires out his unique services to a shadowy "Company." He's a perfectionist who loves developing scenarios. He never simply kills - he devises a complex scheme to rid the world of that person. Bishop's mentor, Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), has fallen under suspicion by the Company's top ranking official (Tony Goldwyn) of leaking sensitive information. Bishop is assigned to eliminate Harry, a task he carries out with cool regret. At the cemetery, he encounters Harry's son, Steve (Ben Foster) and, on a whim, takes the younger man under his wing. Steve proves to be an adept pupil and he is soon accompanying Bishop on jobs, even though his apprenticeship has not been sanctioned by the Company.

In Hollywood, although perhaps nowhere else, there's such at thing as the "hooker with a heart of gold." In The Mechanic, we encounter the "hit man with a heart of gold." Bishop is a suave, cultured individual who apparently only kills people who have it coming. A drug kingpin, an illegal arms dealer, a cult leader - it's tough to feel much sorrow for the people taken out by Bishop and Steve. Maybe that's why the ending re-write was necessary. Bishop is such an upstanding citizen that the irony no longer has its sting.

It doesn't take an observer of cinematic trends to recognize that Jason Statham has become typecast. It's hard to imagine him playing any role outside of his narrow comfort zone. He's the tough-talking rogue in Guy Ritchie films, the Transporter, or the hard-to-kill lunatic in Crank. Bishop isn't light years away from any of Statham's previous characters. It would be interesting to see what Statham's interpretation of Mr. Darcy might be. Perhaps only in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Ben Foster makes an effective sidekick and provides the only (brief) sampling of acting not basted in testosterone. There's not much chemistry between Statham and Foster but, despite the teacher/student relationship, this isn't the kind of film where deep or lasting bonds are forged.

The film's resolution is awkward. It feels contrived and out-of-place. There's a reason for that. With a significant variation, it is lifted from the 1972 movie. However, in that production, there were subtle differences in the main characters' relationship and not-so-subtle differences in how they arrive where they are at the end. Had this edition of The Mechanic retained the entire ending, it still might not have worked in light of other changes, but at least it wouldn't feel as haphazard and artificial, as if pieces of a puzzle are missing. The conclusion was the best part of the 1972 The Mechanic. It's one of the least satisfying aspects of the remake.

Simon West is a capable action/thriller director (his previous credits include Tomb Raider) and his aptitude comes across in the way The Mechanic is assembled. It runs like a well-oiled machine, without significant pauses for exposition or lags between high octane sequences. Meditations on whether revenge is an adequate motivation for murder are kept to quick sound bites. None of the action scenes are exceptionally unique or characterized by flashes of inspiration, but they are competently choreographed and won't bore most viewers, even those who have seen all these things before. The Mechanic seems designed as a vehicle for Statham and, to that end, it serves its purpose. It could have been more, but the filmmakers were less interested in presenting an eclectic and challenging project with limited appeal than something loud and stripped-down that might capture a wider audience. By removing some of The Mechanic's most tantalizing elements, West and his coworkers have produced a motion picture that is appropriate for the January release date.

Mechanic, The (United States, 2011)

Director: Simon West
Cast: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, Tony Goldwyn
Screenplay: Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino
Cinematography: Eric Schmidt
Music: Mark Isham
U.S. Distributor: CBS Films
Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: 2011-01-28
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Sexual Content, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1