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.