“The Mechanic” is a remake of the 1972 film of the same name. The original version featured Charles Bronson as Arthur Bishop (a hitman) and Jan-Michael Vincent as Steve McKenna (Bishop’s protegé). The new movie stars Jason Statham and Ben Foster in the same roles. The original film was directed by Michael Winner who also directed the three “Death Wish” films. The 2011 version was directed by Simon West (“Con Air,” “Tombraider”). The plots of the two movies are similar; however, the screenplay has been updated for the newer film. The stories do not follow the same paths.
In the 2011 version Bishop, also known as “the mechanic,” works for a secret organization which pays him to kill people. He finishes one job, then awaits instructions for his next one. He says he doesn’t feel anything when he kills his targets. It’s simply a way to earn a living. SPOILER follows in brackets: [When the organization asks him to kill his long-time mentor and friend, Harry McKenna, Arthur does so reluctantly and only because he is told that Harry has betrayed their group.] In the wake of Harry’s murder is his adult son, Steve. Although Steve and his father were never very close, he grieves after the loss. In his anger, he attempts to murder a random car-jacker for revenge, but Arthur steps in and prevents the killing. An unusual friendship develops between the two men, as Arthur takes Steve under his wing and teaches him the proper way to kill people. From there, the plot focuses on killings, escapes, chases and a couple of clever plot twists.
Both the 1972 and the 2011 movies are enjoyable each in their own way. I’d call them both fairly good, though for different reasons. The 1972 movie was more original, and though director Winner would probably never admit it, his version was more thoughtful (and creepier). The new movie is slicker, faster, and has better music and effects; the action sequences are faced-paced.
The single best part of both movies is the first 15 minutes of the 1972 version in which, without any dialogue, we watch Bishop carry out one of his jobs from beginning to end. He takes photos from a hotel room window, then breaks into his target’s apartment to set up the crime, then back to the hotel to finish it. The sequence is directed without pretense and with a real-life seediness. The suspense builds perfectly. The new movie has nothing on that.
Statham as the leading hitman does just fine. Jaw clenched throughout most of the film, we see little angst or emotion from him, only brooding, which is what was required. Bronson’s Bishop was also brooding, but a bit more human. Foster as Steve McKenna shows a lot of emotion, is almost over the top and is often unrealistic, but he’s quite entertaining.
So there you have the good about “The Mechanic.” It’s entertaining, just like the filmmakers intended. But what the filmmakers did not intend for us to do is actually think about any of this. You are supposed to leave your conscience (and your brain) outside of the theater when you see the movie. This is especially true of the new version, which is void of anything resembling ethics. The movie’s central premise, that its main characters are cold-blooded murderers, is glossed over so slickly that we almost forget that killing is bad. Bishop and McKenna are deemed heroes, and they face no consequences for their actions. Movies need not feature only good characters. Bad people exist in the world, and sometimes bad people never pay for their deeds. Plus movies are often a mirror of reality. However, for filmmakers to make heroes out of bad people is a choice that warrants a consideration of a film’s ethics.
There is an advantage to the older film; the characters do face consequences for their actions. As corny as the dialogue was, I appreciated Bronson’s character saying to his protegé, “People who stand outside the law, often end up as heroes.” It was irony. That line, coupled with the fact that the 1972 Bishop was on medication for anxiety, hinted at a little bit of morality. There is virtually none of that in the new version. In 2011, we’re supposed to accept that it’s okay to be a hitman, or least that it’s okay as long as you’re not doing so out of vengeance. In fact, on the movie’s official website from CBS Films, fans are asked to be part of an “Apprentice Program.” It instructs: if you think you have what it takes to be a mechanic, “match the descriptions of 4 targets to their faces in the crowd, and put them in your crosshairs.”
I don’t want to be too hard on 2011’s “The Mechanic.” After all, it’s just a movie, and it’s not half-bad entertainment; but I would be remiss not to point out the things above. You have to decide for yourself about the ethics. I personally think newer isn’t necessarily better, and I’m always going to side with having a heart.
Rating: 2 out of 4 stars (both films)
2011 version, 93 minutes, Rated R, Action, Drama, Thriller
1972 version, 100 minutes, Rated PG, Action, Thriller