The Mechanic (2011)
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Maybe it’s because I know that Simon West’s “The Mechanic” is based on a 1972 Charles Bronson action vehicle (unseen by me) that I see it as having a distinct, anti-heroic, steel-headed badass 1970s vibe. I suspect, though, that the feeling is, instead, conveyed by the presence of peerless action hero Jason Statham. Statham is from a new school of action heroes that harkens back to the time when such men were tougher, stoic, pumping with higher volumes of testosterone, willing to get the job done, smack people around, and still come across as someone we want to watch. Statham, while perhaps not the most faceted performer, has that universal movie star quality that seems to be lacking from most action films of the day. He is thuggish, brutal, curt, and unbelievably charming. Some would even say sexy. As comedian Patton Oswalt once declared, I am gay-tham for Statham.
In “The Mechanic,” Statham plays a hard-nosed professional assassin named Arthur, who, in a laconic narration, informs us of the clichéd rules of doing the job correctly. He is seen offing the president of some unnamed nation, surely an evil man. He then retires to his ritzy cabin hidden in the bayou of Louisiana where he can regroup, listen to vinyl, drink fine brandy, and work on his beloved vintage car. He occasionally visits town, and sleeps with his hooker girlfriend, who is prettier than any living hooker, and is played by Swedish model Mini Anden. Arthur is a powerful male fantasy only realized in movies. “The Mechanic” may not live up to other masculine classics, but it is a close disciple of them. Arthur is always hired by the same man, it seems, who has a limitless McDuckian budget of ill-gotten gains, used to do in rivals. He is played by ubiquitous character actor Tony Goldwyn, who can play a slimeball so very well.
Arthur also has a mentor in the form of the wheelchair-bound Harry (Donald Sutherland). That Arthur will have to kill Harry shouldn’t come as a surprise. Arthur soon finds himself masking his pain in his plush lifestyle, and trying to redeem himself by mentoring Harry’s unhinged, revenge-bent son Steve, played by Ben Foster. Foster is an excellent actor who has brought intensity and edge to every one of his roles. He has large blue eyes, a small voice, and a little boy’s face, that he manages to shine violently out of. Steve is brought along on hits, and Arthur very slowly begins to prime him for assassination jobs of his own.
Steve is more interested in the violence than the panache. “Before you taught me this stuff,” he says in one scene, “I wouldn’t know what to do with my anger.” This is an excellent moment.
Unfortunately, the film never lives up to its emotional promises, and becomes increasingly about the action set pieces, until we have cars crashing through buses, and people leaping off of rooftops, clinging to ropes, and firing guns at the same time. The set pieces are all well and good and as clear as one can hope, but they are markedly ridiculous. The film also has a weird homophobic bent that is a little unnerving; when Steve is sent to kill his first mark, he turns out to be gay, which is a form of wickedness, it seems.
There are chases and escapes and twists and double-crosses, all of a predictable bent, only made fun by the presence of the fine actors, and the clarity of editing (which is all too rare in action films these days). There is also a setup for a sequel. Call me a sucker, but I’ll likely see it, should it ever get made.
“The Mechanic” is thudding and fun and manly and dumb. If these are qualities you seek in your action flicks, then, by all means, see it.