January is known mostly as a slow month for good movies. All the highly anticipated action movies come out in the summer. All the Oscar bait/worthy movies come out near the end of the calendar year to build up buzz. I mean, every once in a while you get a Rambo or Smokin’ Aces that sneaks by. So then, what about The Mechanic? Can it fix our good action movie winter slump?
What I was surprised at by the first half of The Mechanic is not its great storytelling, because its the same old same old we’ve seen before, but its clear brutality. The movie opens with a great kill scene then sets up the actors and badassery. We learn about the characters through the way they take on each assassination challenge (which sounds like a weird TV game show).
Statham plays his character calm, cool, and collected. He’s done this all before. He plans for every scenario and even when things go wrong he knows exactly what to do. He’s one of the few actors today who has a Steve McQueen or more appropraitely Charles Bronson style of acting. He doesn’t need to go method. He plays badasses because he is a badass. Does he have much range? Perhaps not… Is he one of the most badass people ever? Yes.
As dependable as Statham is, Foster is even more dependable in being good in anything he does no matter what. Like Adrien Brody in last years Predators, Foster proves he can do anything. Its not that he is a tough guy, but he can certainly command the screen and become one. And he even manages to steal the best fight of the movie from Statham… (more on that in the Spoiler! section)
After McKenna goes through his first kill, the movie basically becomes a series of Action set up/Action scenes. Unfortunately, as the movie ramps up the speed and pace, the quality of the action diminishes. At first it may seem like director Simon West is giving the Hollywood Action Movie the much needed ‘pull the camera back and let the action ‘speak’ for itself’ treatment but as the stakes get higher the action gets fuzzier.
The action mind you is still good, still more impressive than most hollywood shoot ’em ups. Its close and personal, the cast of characters remains relatively small (while the nameless henchmen are still plenty). It might have been nice to see more set up and thought going into the assassination attempts and less ‘action for the sake of action’ (I can’t believe I’m saying that about a Statham movie…). But when you get a fight as good as McKenna/Burke there is absolutely no reason why any other fight or action scene should be less.
That really is my only complaint about the movie. It was stylish, filmed well, remained small and manageable, and had one of the most brutal fights probably all year. So why then is the second half feel so rushed and shakey? Why would you show us your best hand halfway through the movie only to go back to average territory?
Simon West, Ben Foster, and most importantly Jason Statham very clearly know what is cool. So why then does this movie only show us glimpses of that when the whole movie could have done it?
About halfway through the movie Foster is given the assignment to take on Burke, played by Jeff Chase. Chase is one of those guys who you know you know him from somewhere but can’t pin exactly where. So when you get home you will look him up on IMDB and go “OH! He was in that? and that?! and THAT?! Why isn’t he in more?” (to save you a couple steps here is his IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0153779/)
This fight is very clearly a bad idea on McKenna’s part. But after the (unjust) death of his father and seeing Statham take on a dude and kill him man to man, McKenna wants nothing more than to take someone’s, anyone’s, life… man to man. The only problem is Burke is a Mechanic for another firm and he is a giant. So what happens? McKenna gets the shit kicked out of him. He gets in some good blows of his own before delivering the final lucky knock out punch.
But this fight is brutal. The set is utilized and destroyed, characters withstand devastating attacks only to deliver even more devastating attacks. Why would McKenna really want to take on this giant ManHulk one on one? Because its fucking awesome to watch.
The other cool part comes when Bishop has to kill Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland). Even though Harry knows that it is wrong he doesn’t argue. He just accepts it. This is the job he chose and he is going to go out with honor. The only thing I don’t like isn’t that Bishop does it so cold bloodedly, which is actually kind of badass. Harrys a job, just like anyone else. But its that he doesn’t really question it AT ALL, then later when he accidentally discovers he’s been betrayed all of a sudden decides to go on this quest for ‘justice’. Then, instead of dying himself, he tucks and rolls out of his truck only to trick-bomb McKenna in his car later. I mean, I don’t mind Bishop getting away in the end, because he is the best, but it just could have been handled a little better.
In Conclusion: While I’ve never seen the 1972 version with Bronson, I do know that this one holds up on its own. Its not only the best action movie of January (not that that’s saying much), but will have a treasured gem of having one of the most brutal fights all year. If only the rest of the movie could have been like that gem…
Final Grade: B+