Jason Statham has solidified himself as this generation’s great action star; his films are typically vehicles that showcase his trademark gravelly Cockney voice and raw physicality. The Mechanic is an appropriate film for someone like Statham, as the 1972 original was an action vehicle for the 70’s icon Charles Bronson, whose laconic screen presence set the tone for the whole of the film. Although this version of the film is a fairly conventional action film, Statham’s persona keeps The Mechanic from falling flat.
Arthur Bishop (Statham) is a contract killing professional who relies on careful planning and quick thinking over machine gun bravado to execute his targets; the more his hits look like unfortunate accidents, the better. When Bishop’s friend and mentor (Donald Sutherland) is killed, his mentor’s troubled son Steve (Ben Foster) seeks Bishop out, hoping to be trained in the family business.
This new version of The Mechanic is a pretty loose adaptation of the source material. The 1972 original was more focused on isolation and a kind of hip existential philosophy that factored heavily into the main characters’ lives, both professional and personal. The emphasis on preparation influenced the narrative of the whole film and most of the film’s action came from watching the “how” of the hit over the actual hit itself.
Statham has never been one for subtlety; he has always preferred the more direct approach when it came to solving a problem or completing an assignment. Although his portrayal of Bishop is less Bronson and more his Transporter character, Statham does what he knows best and like the saying goes: “If it ain’t broke…”
Purists may roll their eyes at this Mechanic, but Statham makes the film his own and proves to us that he is more than a guy who punches things. Daniel Day-Lewis he is not, but Statham has a singular presence that comes across so naturally that it cannot be denied, not to mention that his intense stoicism makes him something of a Charles Bronson in this day and age. Although Statham’s take on the role is different from his predecessor, he makes it his own and it works.
This rendition of The Mechanic has two notable improvements over the original: The roles of Steve and his dearly departed dad were less-than great in the 1972 version. Although his role is brief in the film, Donald Sutherland – as he always does – has a relatable, personable quality about him, even when he is being serious. He manages to bring a hint of depth to a character that is supposed to serve more as a plot point than anything else. Ben Foster, who has shown a knack for playing despondent lost souls, does the same in his portrayal of Steve. Yet instead of going through the motions, Foster gives the character a violent vulnerability and a shade of humanity that grounds the film every now and then.
Of course, this wouldn’t be an action movie or a Statham movie without explosions, fights and genre conventions. The conventions include the obligatory shadowy organization and double crosses that seem to follow Statham from film to film and though they serve as background to the plot, there are times when these clichéd elements elicit a laugh or two. The action sequences, of course, are the crux of this kind of film and they are well orchestrated –not too choreographed and not too much the product of slapdash editing. Statham is in fine form in these sequences and whether he is rappelling down the side of a building or choking someone with his bare hands, he presents the same lightning fast brutality that has made him a household name. Not to be outdone, Foster carries his own nicely next to the likes of Statham and although he lacks the finesse of his co-star, his unrefined, raw street tactics fit the character and add to the overall impact of the film’s violence.
Fans of the original film may be disappointed by this new version, but The Mechanic goes its own way with the story and ultimately delivers what it promises, which is better than blandly copying the original or doing so badly; it’s hard to tell which would be worse. This film is unapologetically a Jason Statham movie and it effectively delivers exactly what fans of the actor and the genre will want.