I’ve got some sympathy for the person who arrived five minutes late for the screening of The Mechanic I attended. Sometimes, when you arrive a little late for a film, you miss the credits and an establishing shot.
With The Mechanic, a remake of the 70s Michael Winner-Charles Bronson action-fest, it feels like it’s torn through ten to fifteen pages of screenplay on fast forward. Thus, to give a flavour of what to expect, and to help out the aforementioned latecomer, I thought it best to give an idea of just what he missed.
By the time five minutes has clocked up, then, Jason Statham has gone through two or three outfits, travelled what looks like thousands of miles, kicked off the bodycount for the film, escaped an impossible situation, had a swim, and the film’s still also squeezed in a handy way to get through a traffic jam.
The Mechanic has a cunning plan, you see, to help it get through so much, so quickly. And it’s a device that it employs regularly throughout the film. Appreciating the usual screenwriting convention is that, to keep the pace of a film up, you bring the audience into a scene as late as possible, and get out as quickly, The Mechanic manages to evolve the theory. It cuts things out in the middle of a scene, too. And by chopping out bits of both unnecessary and necessary, administration, it makes for an extremely lean and fast first half of the film.
It does, as you might expect, come at a cost. Going back to that opening five minutes (and we’ve left the best bit out of the description above), there’s no logical explanation for how Jason Statham, even at his mightiest, could slip out of the situation he finds himself in unnoticed. So the filmmakers don’t bother to give you one. They just cut to him escaping and move onto the next scene, quickly.
The film carries on with this approach, with Jason Statham easing into the role of an assassin for hire, right up until Ben Foster, as his apprentice of sorts, is introduced.
And it’s there that The Mechanic properly sparks into some kind of life. For it’s Foster who gets the better role, and has the most fun with it, coming across as a slightly unhinged and dangerous protégé.
Plus, once the film has put the relationship between Statham and Foster into place, director Simon West starts bringing his toys out to play.
West will always have a fond place in our hearts for the might of Con Air, and let’s be up front: The Mechanic comes nowhere near matching it. But what it does have is an appreciated old-school approach to its action, eschewing massive effects, fussy editing and assorted distractions, choosing instead to blow a lot of shit up. Often.
This, as it proves, is quite a wise plan, and the second half of The Mechanic is the ride you’re likely to be expecting it to be.
Freed of the need to bother too much with throwing us whatever morsels of story it can spare, West’s take on The Mechanic becomes a lean Jason Statham vehicle (and Statham is a fine match for the material, to be fair), that’s pretty much stolen from underneath him by Foster.
West finds a small amount of running time for a quick bit of Statham humping, and a surprisingly brief Donald Sutherland cameo. Yet, he directs most of the film as if he’s aware that the audience can only get a babysitter in for so long. It feels constantly that he’s galloping forward at speed, giving us a bullet point summation of what’s going on, to help us get from A to B as quickly as possible.
The end result works, though. It’s not a memorable movie, by any measure, and it’s fairly obvious fairly soon how it’s all going to pan out. But Simon West is good at this stuff. Jason Statham is good at this stuff. And Ben Foster might just be a bit of a star in the making.
The combination of these factors? The first enjoyable, forgettable, entertaining action movie of the year. Warts and all.
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