(Simon West, 2011)
Proudly a b-movie to the core, the way in which this Jason Statham vehicle understands the nature of its stars appeal is the key to its success. Statham is a slightly underrated actor who has been good in some more demanding roles, but he is more-or-less unmatched in current cinema as a brooder. In many of his action parts, he plasters on a grumpy scowl, exudes physical menace, struts about, full of shaven-headed machismo, growls tough-guy lines in his mid-Atlantic whisper, then kicks the hell out of people. Best not to ask him for too much emotion or even dialogue. His presence is refreshingly simple and lacking in irony. He's like Bruce Willis without the humour. Such simplicity is best suited to a certain kind of film; ideally the stripped-back, streamlined directness of a b-movie action film.
The Mechanic is just such a film. Its set-up is clear: Statham plays Bishop, a cool assassin who is devoted to professionalism. But after accepting the assignment to kill hs only friend and mentor, he weakens somewhat and takes on his friend's disappointment of a son as a protege, showing him the Hitman ropes. But of course that only leads to further conflict down the road..
Director Simon West has steered enough mega-budget blockbusters through the studio system wringer to understand what works in the action genre, and his assured touch makes The Mechanic a smooth ride. It is also disarming beautiful in places, full of lush sunsets and city skylines against coppered horizons, while the action scenes all deliver; each a brutal, nicely shot and edited piece of pure visceral impact, the kind of thing Stathham excels at.
Ben Foster adds another damaged and vulnerable loser to his growing collection, and he helps the movie to function, while also starting in a couple of terrifyingly bruising set-pieces; while Donald Sutherlands early appearance is perhaps the highlight of the entire film, dramatically speaking of course.
The script is clipped and intent upon its own momentum, so that Bishop has no back-story and is defined more or less purely by what he does. Which is probably as I should be in a Statham film.