Well shit, from one three-hundred-and-sixty-sixth of the way through this, I am now one thirteenth. Time for a beer.
Okay, I’m back. Let’s do this.
The Mechanic (2011)
Much less gay than Winner’s
Now there are two ways we can talk about this flick: as its own entity, or as a remake of Michael Winner’s 1972 release. I’m going to take a look at both by the end of this.
The plot is basically the same as the original: Arthur Bishop is a hitman for a shadowy organisation who is given the job of taking out his boss and old friend Harry. Harry’s son, Steve, is a bit of a psychopath, and wants revenge on whoever killed his dad. Arthur starts training Steve to be a killer. Arthur and Steve fall out at the end. Around that, Lewis John Carlino has made a few key changes to the story from his original book and 40-year-old screenplay. Credited this time alongside Richard Wenk, Carlino has removed almost all subtext and some of the important character beats from the first filmed version. Gone is the subtle almost-flirting between Steve and Arthur as the younger man tries to get the older to admit to what he does for a living. Gone is Arthur’s taste for fine wine (which turned from a character quirk to a major plot point by the end of the story). Gone is the most disturbing – and revealing – sequence of the film, where Steve’s girlfriend has slit her wrists and the two men stand around idly chatting and eating a sandwich as they wait for her to die. In their place we get Steve walking up to Arthur in the street and saying “I know what you do, my dad told me everything”. Good for story economy, bad for story.
The setting has been shifted from Los Angeles to New Orleans as well. I think this change works in the movies favour though. New Orleans has humidity. There’s a sweatiness to it that gives the story of these two hitmen an appropriate sheen of grime that was lacking 40 years ago. Another improvement is the removal of the occasional goofy humour that as a total mood-killer the first time around.
Jason Statham acquits himself well as Arthur. He doesn’t try to copy Bronson (who could?), instead Arthur is cut from the same cloth as Frank “The Transporter” Martin, except this time he kills people instead of driving their stuff around. The man sticks to what he does best: scowling, walking around menacingly, jumping off shit. His Arthur is also a much more likable character than Russell Brand’s.
I remember knowing Ben Foster only from Freaks and Geeks and Get Over It. Since then, he took a complete side-step and now seems to have cornered the market in angry young psychos. 1972 Steve was a bit sleazy and a bit creepy. 2011 Steve is fully believable as someone with the capacity to kill without a concern. He’s a much more layered character this time. You can see his grief at his father’s death in his eyes, as well as the bubbling rage that is tempered and focused by his time with Arthur. Jan-Michael Vincent was never the most subtle of actors but he played to his strengths by making Steve basically a blank slate. Not so this time.
This flick is much more action-heave than its predecessor, all ably handled by Simon West (Con Air). There are a few thrilling shootouts on display, not least of which is the scene where Steve takes out a whole team of bad guys holding him on the couch at gunpoint without breaking a sweat, thanks to Arthur’s pre-stashed emergency semi-auto. I wasn’t overly enamoured with the digital blood sprays however. Things like that work in cartoony action movies like Drive Angry, but in this supposedly more grounded story it seems like overkill, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Overall, I liked it. With the gap in years, combined with all the other differences, you can’t objectively measure the two films as versions of the same story. As a singular thing, the 2011 Mechanic is a good film. It has convincing performances, solid action and good characterisation. It is lacking a bit in subtext, and there are one or two glaring plot holes, but nothing that would be a deal breaker. If you haven’t seen it already, give it a spin.
On an interesting side note, today is the first anniversary of the flick’s UK release. In the CCTV footage seen at the end, the date stamp in the corner shows that same date: 28 Jan 11. Things like that just tickle me.