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The Mechanic

January 29, 2011

The Mechanic

The Mechanic is a remake of the 1972 movie with Charles Bronson as a seasoned hit man taking on Jan-Michael Vincent as a protégé. That movie was notable as a character study, digging into the minds and motivations of the pair, and for basically inventing the notion of the cultured, refined hit man. It was also really terribly made, with acting and production values more in common with pornography of the same vintage.

So what a great opportunity to go back to a flawed classic and make it over with the production values it deserves. It’s a great opportunity that The Mechanic thoroughly wastes. It looks great, yes, but in the translation it’s lost what good there was in the original.

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is a “mechanic” — a skilled hit man who can perform his job cleanly and efficiently. His friend and handler Harry McKean (Donald Sutherland) tells him he’s the best there is, and it may well be true. Indeed, we do see a couple jobs pulled off with a minimum of fuss, but within the movie itself most of them involve more than their share of sound and fury.

Arthur receives a new assignment: Harry has been selling out jobs for his own personal profit, and he has to be removed from the equation. Though he hates the idea, Arthur does his job, making it look like the work of carjackers. Afterwards, watching Harry’s burial, he meets Steve (Ben Foster), Harry’s loose cannon of a son.

Harry’s death casts Steve even more adrift, with no remaining line of support. He drinks all day and shoots up his father’s empty house. He goes out at night to try baiting a carjacker in the hopes of catching and killing the ones responsible. And when Arthur stops him, he says he wants to learn the trade.

Arthur must see something in Steve, since he takes the younger man under his wing and starts training him. Evidently Steve knows most of it already, since the bulk of the training we see consists of shooting very big guns at things out in the woods. But we do eventually see Steve go on a some jobs, which his carelessness turns from meticulous plans into violent messes.

There are a lot of plot points that come across from the original, but in the process they lose what meaning they had. Arthur’s closest associate other than Harry is still a prostitute, but absolutely no time is spent on their relationship other than to show us that it isn’t a one-time thing. The ending, which is superficially similar, is reconfigured into a more conventional Hollywood story, and loses the last of what was interesting in the Bronson version.

Some big action scenes are welcome in a hit man movie. But the best ones are more like heist movies or con movies; they hinge on finely-tuned plans coming together like clockwork. This is especially true of The Mechanic, where the whole point is how meticulous and elegant his personal and professional styles are. Whoever wrote the new version missed that point.

Worth it: no.
Bechdel test: fail.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 29, 2011 21:58

    Hey man, nice summary. Glad you focused on the remake as I never even knew it existed *ashamed*. But your last comment I noticed that you said whoever wrote this missed the point, well I think it was the same guy (having checked up after)
    Check out my view at

  2. January 29, 2011 22:15

    I think Carlino had some input in the script, but I think he was overridden by Wenk’s voice (and West’s direction) for the most part.

  3. Jubayer K permalink
    January 31, 2011 12:32

    Well, this WAS a Jason Statham movie. Large action set-pieces which seem detached from the plot are a given. For a protracted slick action set-piece that hinges on “clockwork” (as you mentioned) please refer to The Score (2001).

  4. January 31, 2011 12:34

    Following that logic there’s no need for film criticism at all, Jubayer. Lots of movies could feasibly be summed up as “this star, this director, this genre, enough said”

    • Jubayer K permalink
      January 31, 2011 16:24

      No, because you’d be critiquing a movie based on it’s RELEVANT merit(s). If you go to a Steven Seagal film expecting lots of high-brow drama you are going to be incredibly dissapointed. He has a very particular niche market to fill and if you’re part of that niche (on days I wish for a hero who gives no prior thought of any discernable kind, I AM part of that market — say what you will I don’t care) he fills it well. Don’t get me wrong you’re FREE to make whichever criticisms you wish, I just think that in certain cases it becomes a moot point. If you think that equates to saying, “well, every movie is good and no criticism can be made” just remember, Steven Seagal HAS made lots of terrible action movies that leave his core fans dissapointed.

    • January 31, 2011 16:29

      I think that, as a remake, fidelity to or divergence from the themes of the original are quite relevant.

      • Jubayer K permalink
        January 31, 2011 16:46

        Sure. But like I said, Jason Statham fills a particular niche market for American audiences cast as the tough, overly-slick and cartoonish action-figure Englishman. For heaven’s sakes we’re talking about the dude from Crank and the Transporter flicks. I wish he’d take on more subtler roles like in Snatch, but I don’t think he’s going to get those on the West Side of the Atlantic. So when you’re going to watch him, you gotta know what to expect. Hence my comment, ” Well, this WAS a Jason Statham movie. Large action set-pieces which seem detached from the plot are a given.”

      • January 31, 2011 16:47

        The flip side is that they’re a given for Dwayne Johnson movies, and yet.. Faster.

  5. Jubayer K permalink
    January 31, 2011 16:54

    Well, I haven’t seen Faster yet, so hopefully it does involve more than the usual Rock fare. I’d love for JS to flip the script and put in a more nuanced role – but I won’t hold my breath. Don’t laugh – I actually think he could pull it off if given the chance. He does intensity well; long as he can get rid of that ridiculous over-the-top sneer (symbolizing menace [?] to American audiences).


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