The Mechanic (2011)
Directed by Simon West
The Mechanic is pure, cold-blooded machismo. And that's a good thing.
Killer of Killers
Like "the cleaner" in La Femme Nikita, "the mechanic" is a nice little euphemism for the guy who goes in and fixes things, typically with a gun instead of a wrench. Although in Arthur Bishop's case, wrenches are certainly another tool of the trade, along with phone cords and screwdrivers. Heck, just about any ol' random object could be employed as a lethal weapon in Arthur's hands.
The Mechanic is the kind of 92-minute action movie that cuts to the chase, or more to the point, the killing. There really aren't many scenes that qualify as traditional chase scenes per se. This is all about the fine profession of assassin for hire; it's about fixing broken situations.
Following that expeditious modus operandi, The Mechanic establishes an entire, long-standing relationship between two key characters in one scene, set in a greasy spoon diner. In this case, the relationship is between Arthur (Jason Statham) and Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland). It's fitting. Even in reality, Statham and Sutherland go way back, at least to 2003, when they co-starred in another fine remake, The Italian Job.
This time around, they're remaking Charles Bronson's The Mechanic from 1972; it's also known as Killer of Killers.
As Arthur notes, there are several strategies to choose from while on the job: make it look like an accident, cast suspicion on someone else, send a message to other parties, or give it the appearance of natural causes.
No matter the approach, though, The Mechanic is loaded with bloody violence. But it's not the cheesy, showboating bloodlust of a Tarantino or Rodriguez opus. This is raw, hard-core retribution wherein some particularly nefarious people get what they deserve.
Arthur's also challenged with a rather personal mission: to air out his friend Harry after it's revealed Harry sold out five agents while on a mission in South Africa.
The guilt surrounding that job leads Arthur to contact Harry's son, Steve (Ben Foster, 3:10 to Yuma's 2007 remake). The kid's a troubled soul in need of some kind of direction. Being a man of compassion, Arthur takes him under his wing and trains him to be an assassin.
Vengeance Is the Mission
Jason Statham and Donald Sutherland in a greasy spoon
Photo: CBS Films
Unlike the typical buddy movie, Arthur and Steve tend to keep their distance personally, even as they bond while in training and on the job. There's a nice tension between the two, perfectly appropriate and no doubt an occupational hazard of sorts.
The characters Statham plays are fairly interchangeable; the guy in The Italian Job isn't much different from the guy in The Expendables, who in turn isn't really all that different from the guy in The Mechanic. Then again, Bronson didn't have much in the way of range, either.
That said, this remake most certainly ups the ante and improves upon the original in a number of ways. It's an R-rated, randy, raging remake that fixes what was broken in the original.
Namely, the relationships between Arthur, Harry, and Steve play out more logically compared to the detached, distant vibe emanating from the original's cold performances of Bronson, Keenan Wynn, and Jan-Michael Vincent. In particular, Foster's Steve is a lost, listless character who feels an extra sense of emptiness after his father's death.
The missions are better than those of '72. And there's also a splendid scene of vengeance as the movie reaches its climax. Actually, there are two splendid scenes of vengeance.
Victory Loves Preparation
Jason Statham and Ben Foster in a bar
Photo: CBS Films
It's interesting that Statham, Sutherland, and Foster have appeared in other excellent remakes, the aforementioned The Italian Job and 3:10 to Yuma. Not many remakes live up to the original, even fewer surpass it. Most come along as lame retreads, like the pointless Point of No Return, which was simply an American frame-by-frame remake of the French masterpiece La Femme Nikita. It was frame-by-frame, but lacking in every way.
This new take on The Mechanic fleshes things out, provides more thematic heft, and also manages some sly, wry humor, such as the kingpin who negotiates a few hours of community service time with his 16-year-old kid, then turns around and negotiates an assassination.
There's a grainy, fuzzy focus to the violent proceedings that make this Mechanic feel all the more like a throwback to the '70s. Granted, there's no doubt part of the fuzziness was courtesy of an incompetent projectionist who couldn't bother to get the framing quite right, but even that only adds to the atmospherics.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.