Recently I spent an entire weekend watching Charles Bronson films in an effort to document his very best kills. I, and at various times a rotating cadre of my friends, watched 20 movies over three days during what was dubbed Bronsothon. Needless to say, I waded through some really awful movies that weekend, but there were more than a few pleasant surprises. Among them were Mr. Majestyk, Death Wish 2, and The Mechanic. The Mechanic blew my mind because as much as it was a familiar Bronson shoot-em-up, it was also a fairly cerebral character study. It also had an ending I did not at all expect; I loved it. When I heard the upcoming Jason Statham film was a remake, I had to see it.
The Mechanic is one Arthur Bishop (Statham), the world’s most effective hit man. His lethality is matched only by his machine-like adherence to routine. When Bishop is given the assignment to kill his former mentor, he is understandably conflicted. His scruples dissolve however upon hearing that this mentor orchestrated a double cross that left several of his colleagues killed. In a testament to his unflappable professionalism, Bishop completes the contract. But Bishop can’t help but feel sympathy for the now orphaned son of his former mentor and takes the troubled young man under his wing. Before long, Bishop is tutoring him in the bloody art of contract killing.
Before I go any further, please be aware that there will be spoilers in the next few paragraphs. These spoilers have the potential to not only ruin the remake for you but also the original Charles Bronson film. Please be aware and read no further if you haven’t seen either.
As with any remake of a film I truly enjoy, there was a certain amount of pessimism coursing through me as I sat down to watch the film. And in fact, even as it got rolling I began picking holes in the film; finding faults for which I would later hold it accountable. But then I began to realize that I was committing a sin we critics must avoid: the fanboy fallacy. But given the original film and its star, I felt less like a fanboy and more like a grumpy old man whose grandson was redecorating his den. Stick with me, there’s a point here. It was a younger, slicker interpretation of a classic portrayal of–among other things–manliness. Every little change, every slight alteration to what I knew and loved caused a grumble or two. My grizzled stubbornness would not allow me to consider that the minds behind the remake had the fans’ best interest at heart. But when cooler, more objective rationale prevailed, it became apparent that The Mechanic is not only a solid actioner in its own right, but a commendable remake of the original film. I just needed to quell each individual gripe.
Where the remake makes changes in the narrative are indicative of the cliches of modern action films. In fact, the cliches in The Mechanic are so apparent that they allow for exact identification where it may have been harder to pinpoint in other films. The insane acrobatics, the hypersexualization, the incessant all-purposing of technology, and moody montages serving as character development (with a barrage of soundtrack fodder whored ad nauseum). There are two wholly unnecessary–if visually titillating–sex scenes, skyscrapers are scaled, and somehow the online version of a Podunk local paper has the inside scoop on covert government operations. And if I saw one more moody, Guy Ritchie plagiarized montage accompanied by hip jazz I was going to shoot Ben Foster myself.
But mostly these are superficial touch-ups designed to attract modern audiences to the material. More than that, despite how hackneyed they seem, these cliches work for this film. They are woven in on the exact beats to produce an incredibly well-paced, slickly entertaining film. Not to mention the fact that most of these sins are absolved by The Mechanic‘s shirking of a separate modern action film convention: watered down violence. This is not a film that borders on PG-13 to attract an even wider audience, on the contrary it fully embraces its R-rating. When someone gets thrown from building, the shot doesn’t end until the splat on the sidewalk. When someone is thrown in front of a car, the cut doesn’t occur until the bumper has found its target. The fight scenes are incredibly brutal and every punch lands with gut-wrenching force. The last movie to feature cringe-inducing violence like this was Taken. As I absolutely loved Taken, this definitely intended as as compliment.
There was a part of me that despised the fact that the remake let the audience in on the surprise ending earlier than the original. [POTENTIAL SPOILERS BEGIN] In the 1972 version, there is absolutely no hint that Bronson’s protegee means to kill him and that’s makes the ending so immensely shocking; the fate of the protegee then being even more effective. In the remake, the audience knows Foster knows Bishop killed his father about 2/3 of the way through and is therefore waiting for him to take revenge. But as much as that part of me wanted to spit on the ground and call this one a loss, it does actually lend a nice bit of tension to the film that I thoroughly enjoyed. The fact that Foster still ends up getting his comeuppance allows for the song to remain the same even if a few of the preceding notes have been changed. [POTENTIAL SPOILERS END]
Statham and Foster do a respectable job playing off one another while also selling the mentor/mentoree relationship. As dubious a compliment as it may be, I truly think this is Statham’s best solo vehicle to date (bearing in mind I do not consider his collaborations with Guy Ritchie to be solo vehicles so the praise may seem even more dubious). The story is decent and the fight scenes are incredible. We are prone to exalting the “mindless” action film as if it were somehow par for the course and our only expectation for the genre. But it would be slander to call The Mechanic a mindless action film. Even if it is not as character-driven and introspective as the original, it ventures into similar territory with a sincere desire to recapture that quality.
The Upside: A great action film in its own right that is also an apt remake of the Charles Bronson film.
The Downside: A few indulgences into the cliches of modern action films.
On the Side: A reissue title of the original Mechanic was Killer of Killers…one of the more spolierific titles I’ve ever heard considering the ending.