Release Date: January 28, 2011
Director: Simon West
Writers: Richard Wenk (screenplay) and Lewis John Carlino (screenplay/story)
Stars: Jason Statham, Ben Foster and Donald Sutherland
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Your enjoyment of The Mechanic will most likely hinge on whether or not you are, as Patton Oswalt puts it, “gay-tham for Statham.” If you are a fan of Jason Statham films, chances are you will walk out of the theater pleased with his latest effort, though not blown away by it. If you aren’t in Camp Statham though, you are probably going to leave the theater rolling your eyes and shaking your head.
In the Statham oeuvre, The Mechanic is solidly middle of the pack. It’s not as fun or ridiculous as the Crank or Transporter films, but nowhere near as bad as something like Death Race. The plot is nothing you haven’t seen countless times before – a hitman with a plucky sidekick seeks revenge on the agency that betrayed him – but the story is solidly written and just unpredictable enough to keep it from seeming completely stale.
It has most of the elements you want in a Statham film. The violence is graphic and the nudity is gratuitous. There are cool guns (including one with the phrase “Victory loves preparation” etched on the sides of it in both English and Latin) and plenty of massive explosions. Statham’s character, Arthur Bishop, is an incredibly meticulous and well-dressed bad ass following his own unique code of right and wrong. He sees every angle and plans for every contingency. He appears shirtless several times. At different points in the film, he must jump off a bridge and off the side of a building to escape capture.
Ben Foster and Donald Sutherland are both great in their supporting roles. Sutherland plays Arthur’s mentor and only friend, Harry McKenna. Sutherland doesn’t have much screen time, but he makes the most of it and adds depth and nuance to his character in the short amount of time he’s given. Foster plays the aforementioned plucky sidekick, a role he is well suited for. Foster doesn’t really get enough witty one-liners, but the ones he has are delivered well, and he is convincing in his action scenes as well, which is a key to making the film work.
The only character that doesn’t work is Dean (Tony Goldwyn), the head of the agency that employs Arthur as a hitman. He is the villain in the film, but he never really seems like a worthy foe. The character is too bland and one-dimensional to ever really care about and he seems so utterly outmatched by Arthur that it’s hard to see him as a legitimate threat.
The overall pace and tone of the film felt a bit off too. The first act is particularly slow and often feels tedious as it leisurely puts all of the major story elements in place. Once the action starts picking up the film works much better, but it never really builds to as big of a climax as it should. It also feels overly brooding and dark at times, which fits the storyline, but again makes the film drag in spots.
There were also a few decisions that director Simon West made that didn’t really work. His biggest problem is that he is overly fond of extreme close-ups. There are way too many shots of Statham, Sutherland and Foster that are so closely cropped that the tops of their heads are out of the frame. It’s incredibly distracting and gives the film an oddly claustrophobic feel.
Also, the action scenes are put together using what has sadly become the norm these days – tons of shaky hand-held camera shots frenetically edited together. As a result, it’s occasionally hard to tell exactly what is going on in the fight sequences, though for the most part West and his editors do a decent job presenting the scenes in a way that makes sense.
These are ultimately minor complaints that many Statham fans probably won’t even notice. And they aren’t enough to ruin the movie. Overall, The Mechanic is a fun film that works more often than it doesn’t. So if you are simply looking for a mindless action film, I definitely recommend it. And if you are truly “gay-tham for Statham” then you should already be in line.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.