09 February 2011

Review: The Mechanic

Urban: Jason Statham takes this film in a contemplative direction in the style of the recent film The American. The result is a film full of action, that nevertheless hits some strong and subtle notes.

Simon West (Con Air) directs this remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson film about an elite assassin (Jason Statham) working for a high class cabal as he teaches his trade to an apprentice (Ben Foster) who has a connection to one of his previous victims.

The Mechanic rises above the typical fare, and the typical Jason Statham film, by taking a little extra time to fill out the story and show us the details.

It's that simple.

Without a steady hand to guide it this film could have easily entered the realm of The Transporter, the only difference being the subject matter glossed over before Statham started crushing skulls and the addition of a buddy storyline. Instead, Statham's character, Arthur Bishop, really steps onto the screen and channels some inner Charles Bronson as he deals with one of the most common employment issues when working for an assassin cabal - that they always feel the need to terminate their employees? (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the Bourne Trilogy, Wanted). This happens in two ways:

First, the buddy story that is depicted on the screen actually plays out. By that, I simply mean to say that it has a trajectory. The last buddy film that I can remember was The Other Guys with Will Ferrell and Marky Mark, but that one simply served as a vehicle for both of those actors to act silly. Here, we get to see a fully developed bond, complete with the weaknesses and areas of mistrust you might expect from a relationship thrown together like this.

Second, the details of the film are really allowed to show through. I guess, this is probably my way of saying that I noticed the details here, and I liked them. The Schubert playing on vinyl, the classic porsche, the house on the bayou - most importantly, the detailed planning of the assassinations - this is not Cranked, or Death Race, but a story about the kind of characters that I want to know about. It's also probably why the film didn't produce at the box office the way Statham's recent films have, despite the fact that this one has plenty of action.
The primary thing that I want to say about this movie is that I really enjoyed it, but that I also had very low standards for what to expect from it. This happened because I couldn't help but compare this film with the last 8 years of Jason Statham films and find a whole lot more in this one than in all of the others. Slate television critic Troy Patterson says that "Statham isn't pretentious enough to try to elevate any movie, but rather that he celebrates the 'B-Movieness' of the roles that he choose", but I happen to agree more with Julia Turner on the same cultural gabfest when she mentions Statham's ability to bring humor to a role that would other wise not seem very funny. I think that in this film, that humor fits in with the rest of the storyline and along with the details and pacing (think of this one as a poor man's The American) combine to create a pleasant film.

Urban: Recommended
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