So this is embarrassing. I spent the past week buried in a freelance project, and Sunday night, when Sean suggested that we both take a break from occupational overachievement and go to the movies, did I suggest that we check out one of the many Oscar nominees I haven’t seen—The Fighter or The Illusionist or, god help me, Blue Valentine? No. No, I did not. Instead, I immediately proposed that we go watch Jason Statham shoot people while being unflappably cool in what I knew to be a thoroughly mediocre B-movie. I’m not proud of this, but I can’t say I regret it.
I wanted to see The Mechanic for two reasons. First, after watching The Day of the Jackal at what was clearly a far too impressionable age—and subsequently devouring the Frederick Forsyth novel on which it was based—I developed a lifelong fascination with assassins. I kind-of-sort-of-not-really-except-yes-I-totally-did want to be an assassin—not for the killing part of the job but because Edward Fox’s meticulous, resourceful, imperturbable Jackal seemed like the pinnacle of introverted, obsessive compulsive attention to detail without all the neuroses that usually go along with that in, you know, my experience. I’m a neurotic ball of nerves who could never handle such high-stakes tension (plus, I have enough of a conscience that committing cold-blooded murder would probably keep me up at night—whatever), but that didn’t kill the amoral fantasy of it. I’m still a sucker for hitman flicks like The Mechanic.
And Jason Statham, bless him, always exudes a very Jackal-like quality—not Fox’s refined elegance but his masterful poise, making even sociopathy attractive. (In case you missed it, Statham would be reason number two for my interest.) Statham isn’t a versatile actor, but he’s very, very good at what he does: playing absolutely kickass characters who have a highly professional attitude toward kicking ass. They’ve mastered a certain skill set and take pride in their work, and they are always utterly self-possessed. (This is particularly impressive considering that Statham’s characters often find themselves in ludicrous situations, like, say, the biological-Speed gimmick of Crank, which makes that self-possession a genius comedic technique to boot.) Plus, Statham brings a grounded physicality to the screen. He often performs his own fight scenes and stunts, and you can tell, honestly, by the fluidity of his movements, the rawness of it all. Unlike a lot of actors, he’s both convincingly tough and convincingly smart, and he’s also, you know, really hot in a gritty, down-and-dirty sort of way. What can I say? He’s fun to watch.
So, yeah, The Mechanic: Statham plays Arthur Bishop, a professional “mechanic” who fixes problems by making people dead, either quietly by “accident” or very publicly to send a message—client’s choice. After yet another hit well done, Arthur learns that his employers want his mentor, Harry (Donald Sutherland), dead—a turn of events that shakes even our bottled-up antihero. Hurting, in his impossibly stoic way, he reaches out to Steve (Ben Foster), Harry’s angry, screwed-up son, and eventually agrees to teach the kid his trade. But Steve is way too volatile to be a good assassin (there’s nothing Jackal-like about that little fuck-up), and the relationship between him and Arthur is even more unstable. Nothing good can come from this.
The best part of the movie is the beginning, before Steve gets involved, when it’s just Arthur executing his impeccable plans flawlessly. But there wouldn’t be a plot if that were all there was—fine—so enter the wrench. Foster is better than I expected, emotionally raw, even dangerous in a feral-dog kind of way. But when the hits start going south, they tend to turn into jumbles of machine-gun fire and car chases, and I’m not nearly as interested in that as I am in Arthur’s perfectly timed, soundless, seamless drowning of a cartel kingpin. Semiautomatics and high-speed getaways are for people who fail at stealth and OCD-level preparations. Boo to that.
Still, Arthur and Steve’s master-protégé relationship is deliciously twisted and, at times, weirdly affecting. (Gotta love a movie in which “Never kill someone when you have a motive!” becomes wisdom for the ages.) And even if it eventually descends into a dull bullet hail, The Mechanic still offers some great action set pieces, Arthur’s gorgeous modernism-in-the-Louisiana-bayou abode, Donald Sutherland in a memorable cameo, and Jason Statham being fucking awesome as usual. And really, on Sunday night, that was all I wanted.