Jason Statham knows how to kill people real good. That’s just one of the great cinematic truths of our time. In the same way that some actors have a natural chemistry with one another, and some movie stars just exude screen presence, Statham convincingly breaks faces with effortless ease. It’s as if he studied at The Lee Strasberg Institute of Badassery. He is the Stanislavski of neck-stomping. It’s a shame filmmakers don’t take advantage of his considerable sense-of-humour, as Guy Ritchie wisely did in his early pictures. Well, no matter. It’s of no use in The Mechanic, a remake of the 1972 revenge thriller of the same name, in which Statham takes on the particularly humourless Charles Bronson role.
Statham stars as Arthur Bishop, an expert hitman who makes his victims look as if they weren’t killed at all: he stages suicides and accidental, potentially Darwin Award-winning deaths. In his free time, he listens to Schubert, which subscribes to the theory of Badass Juxtaposition, as first posited by Vern from Ain’t It Cool News. When Bishop is instructed to take out his mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland) for the sake of national security, he hesitates (you’ll notice the normally stoic Statham grimace, just for a second). Still, he’s a professional, so he fakes a carjacking and does away with his hero. Riddled with guilt (maybe … he’s really stoic), Bishop keeps an eye on Harry’s vengeance-seeking son Steve (Ben Foster), who is unloading his grief by beating up street thugs. The kid shows promise, so Bishop takes him under his wing, trains him in the way of the assassin, and unleashes him like a rabid dog.
Let’s back up for a second, and discuss one of the moments that really stayed with me. The picture opens with the assassination of a cartel leader. Who is he? What is his story? We don’t know. He is executed (expertly, mind you) too quickly for us to find out. However, we do get to see him exit a limo, and moments after entering his mansion, he is holding a champagne flute. Was he drinking the champagne in the car, or was it handed to him upon arrival at his abode? Either way, the existence of that champagne flute in his hand speaks volumes; his employees know to always keep champagne handy should their boss require a glass at any time. That is true power. That is also representative of the extent of characterisation in this film, but hey, it’s all I needed.
The Mechanic adheres to all genre conventions imaginable, including what I like to call The Statham Special (establish that you are a professional who sticks to a strict series of rules, and then proceed to break each of them almost immediately). Thankfully, the film embraces the inherent nihilism of the life of a hitman, instead of having our hero endure soppy scenes of “opening his heart” and “finding the joy in a companion”. The finale is a particularly brutal affair, only outdone by dual codas of escalating betrayal. Ain’t no one receiving moral redemption from these acts of vengeance, and ain’t nobody wanting ‘em.
Ben Foster is putting together a nice portfolio of performances as angry young men struggling to find an outlet for their aggression. He nailed it in 3:10 To Yuma, The Messenger and The Believer (although I think that last one was Ryan Gosling; it’s so hard to tell them apart, it’s as if all these handsome, talented young actors are strolling off a production line in Hollywood). He’s only unconvincing when he tries to look cool (yes, there is one notable moment where he walks away from an explosion).
What else is there really to say? Simon West’s direction is adequate. It’s his best film since Con Air, although if you check his filmography you’ll notice that’s not a massive call. The Mechanic is a solid revenge flick; an efficient entry to (if not an extension of) the genre. The action sequences are fun; the violence is satisfyingly gory. I only wish one of the major plot revelations – made late in the film – was not the result of a coincidence. It’s just lazy screenwriting. Still, it’s better than the reveal in The Ghost Writer. An entire government conspiracy is unveiled via Google search? Oh come on.
The Mechanic opens across Australia March 24, 2011.