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July 2011

The Mechanic

cast: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, Tony Goldwyn, and Mini Anden

director: Simon West

93 minutes (15) 2011
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum DVD Region 2

RATING: 5/10
review by Christopher Geary

The Mechanic

This is a remake of Michael Winner's The Mechanic (aka: Killer Of Killers, 1972), which starred Charles Bronson as hitman Arthur Bishop. With British export Jason Statham cast as Bishop, this US version ramps up the spectacular action set-pieces but plays down the main character's uncompromising hardness. In the first sequence of Bishop at work, he drowns a heavily-protected syndicate boss in the mobster's own swimming pool, and makes a clean getaway without any of the armed security guards knowing he was there, or even noticing him as he walks out a tradesman's entrance.

He's got the calm demeanour and ice-cool calculating intent down pat, but Statham's reclusive contract killer with a track record of eliminating 'designated targets', doesn't have Bronson's whole ball of wax. Equipped with disposable mobile phones, his ascetic Zen lifestyle, is one of comfortable wealth, and guilt-free associations followed by anonymous sex (with Mini Anden), but Statham's 21st century mercenary assassin is never as bleakly withdrawn as Bronson's wearily anxious loner. As in the 1970s' movie, Bishop's only close friend here is his mentor and commissions handler, Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland in a wheelchair) who is, plot-wise, obviously scheduled as Bishop's next target. Since our antihero's working specialty is murders that look like 'accidents' or the random fatal misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Harry's eventual demise is officially written off as a 'carjacking' turned deadly.

'Victory loves preparation' is the motto etched onto Harry's souvenir gun, and it's the ideal dictum for Bishop's emotionally detached career. Harry's wastrel son Steve (Ben Foster, lost in space for Pandorum, and winged superhero 'Archangel' in X-Men: The Last Stand) inherits bugger all, really, because his poor crippled dad carried a burden of unpaid debts and so, just as in Winner's iconic portrait of Bishop as enigmatic and invisible executioner, devious Steve is soon pestering the charmless outsider for an operational apprenticeship, although this remake doesn't actually re-enact all that many of the most memorable 'death scenes' (the suicidal girlfriend is notably absent) from the original picture.

Weapons proficiency training inter-cuts with Steve's psyche prep for new 'mechanic' joba while Bishop plays classical records (Schubert!) on a hi-fi turntable, and he's just as meticulously careful in handling his seemingly precious vinyl collection as he is in tutoring young tearaway Steve. Steve's initiation into the world of major crime is to rid the world of a gay bruiser, and Bishop suggests simply poisoning the beefy victim is the safest approach. However, scrawny runt Steve, clearly driven by his churning soup of rage over the sudden passing of unfit-parent Harry, foolishly insists upon making it a more difficult, very bloody task and endurance test for himself. When Bishop teams-up with Steve for one last sneaky 'mission: impossible' - set against a rich and sleazy preacher (who's so depraved, he's a ketamine junkie), it goes wrong because our anti-heroes lack sufficient prep time, and there's a rooftop shootout with the guru's goons, with a lot more violence yet to come...

The Mechanic is a slick yet fairly gritty production troubled with a somewhat un-likeable and implacable protagonist whose 'elite' professional indifference to morality leaves him not much humanity. Bishop is not a romanticised super-hero like typically wooden Statham's signature role in his Transporter movies. The studied influence of Michael Mann's classic Heat (1995), is notable in the climactic scenes but, sadly, The Mechanic never attains the same depth of creative filmmaking, as it's undermined by weaker performances, and its suspense-thriller plotline is deflated by its predictable twists, not to mention blatant variations of the original's key closing scenes (like that tragically explosive finale).

Back in the 1970s, it was plain that audiences were not supposed to identify with the callous Bishop, as portrayed by stony-faced Bronson, shortly before his admission to American cinema's hall of fame as the vigilante in Winner's extraordinarily influential Death Wish (1974). For a role of philosophical melancholy and obsessive antipathy (bordering on the dreadful psychosis of a serial killer), Bronson made Bishop as monstrously inhuman as any 'protagonist' could be. While never needing to earn any sympathy from viewers for his fate, Bronson's Bishop could be admired only for his 'mechanic' efficiency. Statham, on the other hand, is very much the British people's movie-hero champion of our time.

He's too roughneck and working-class for any James Bond style heroism, but his big screen roles are clearly supposed to be 'sympathetic' characters. Statham's Bishop is coldly aloof, but the actor's usual laconic action-figure persona (Crank, Chaos, and Death Race, etc) remains quite visible, beneath his fashionable stubble. Regrettably, perhaps, there's undoubtedly something of Statham's 'Handsome Rob' (from F. Gary Gray's Italian Job remake) in this remake's characterisation of Bishop, and that is its fatal misjudgement. Statham plays Bishop as ruthless and usually cold hearted, but Bronson's Bishop was completely merciless without any heart at all (not even a frozen lump to fill the space in his proverbial Tin Man's chest), so he's far more convincing as a movie hitman in Winner's drama. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how Statham fares in the Killer Elite remake, due out soon.

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