The Mechanic takes a tired genre and, without breaking new ground, creates a festive and entertaining film fueled by non-stop action and a great role by the ever-reliable Ben Foster. Simon West directs this hitman film based on the original 1972 Charles Bronson actioner of the same name, with Jason Statham filling the role of Bronson while Foster fills the role of Jan-Michael Vincent. Brutal violence and unexpected humor keep the proceedings from feeling too rehashed, and an undercurrent of revenge never bogs down the streamlined plot that propels the movie forward. This is an action film that knows to play within the set boundaries of what an audience wants—and does so unblinkingly within the 92 minute run time. Hit the jump for my full review of The Mechanic.
Arthur Bishop (Statham) is a mechanic, otherwise known as a hitman. He takes a certain pride in his offing of thugs, drug dealers, and other scum of the earth in inventive ways. Otherwise, Arthur lives a simple, quiet existence in his off time; classical music played on vinyl and a project Jaguar are his fallbacks. When his mentor and only friend, Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), is targeted for the next assignment, Arthur is forced to make decisions that are less than automatic. An unlikely bond begins to form between Arthur and Harry’s only son, Steve (Foster), and the two set off on a path that will lead them straight to those truly responsible.
West hasn’t made a hit in a while since he broke onto the scene with his directorial debut Con Air. However, he is back with a film that is unapologetic about its violence yet still light. Penned by Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino, The Mechanic feels like a muscle car covered in an inch of grime and dirt. You know the film is well-funded, yet there is a gritty exterior that keeps things from feeling too generic. Although I can’t attest to how similar the two are because I missed the original, one might assume that’s where that quality comes from.
Statham does what he is known for. Dry and unemotional, he plays the role straight as an arrow. Arthur is level-headed and precise, on and off the job. He gets the job done without a trace and the killing of all of these people never seems to wear on him. While Statham may be the main star, it is Foster that truly shines as the troubled son. When Arthur takes Steve under his wing, they are initially distant but form a quick rapport in taking down a common enemy. However, Steve is reckless, wild, and trying to fight back his sorrows. This makes for a sloppy partner at times, but imperfect characters are often the most interesting and Steve is no exception.
Humor comes from off the wall situations at times, even in the middle of brutal action. When Arthur is helping Steve on his first job, the plan is to utilize roofies and Steve jokes, “You want me to kill him, not rape him, right?” A fight between Steve and his first job lays waste to a well-furnished home and leaves a bloody mess in its wake. Shelves, glass tables, and refrigerators are demolished in often inventive ways as Steve’s target relentlessly pursues him. One scene where Steve gets the best of three enemies left the audience in a uproar of laughter. That’s the type of fun you can expect. Violence can be disdainful in the wrong light, but The Mechanic has enough levity for most to laugh about.
For some, that violence will be too brutal to enjoy. The humor comes from comically violent situations or vulgar language, and will obviously miss on a certain demographic. However, walking into an R-rated assassin film that stars Jason Statham comes with a certain expectation. You either are on board or you aren’t. Even I was skeptical coming into the film and consider myself a fan of the action genre in general. Happily, The Mechanic turned into a pleasant surprise.
Despite that, the film has its share of flaws. Arthur’s initial unflinching trust in the company that hires him is troublesome. He clearly does his own research, but failed to thoroughly investigate the kill that sets everything in motion. Harry tries to find some humanity in Arthur, but he seems mostly immune to it. Some violence goes beyond the realm of fun and it is confusing whether the crew is trying to send a message that not all death is a funny matter. Wrapping it in a bloody and fun action film seems like an odd concoction if that was the goal.
The Mechanic’s brutal action and humor will be a welcome delight or a severe flaw. If you fancy a quick, no-holds-barred action romp with plenty of grit and an unconventionally potent turn by Foster, you will be pleased. Simon West shows off his style and turns in an unexpectedly fun ride that may not be original, but does what it wants well even if it is a bit confusing at times. Not all remakes have to be lifeless retreads, and thankfully The Mechanic is definitely alive. The film opens everywhere today.