The Mechanic

The Mechanic is a bouncy film about a hit man. You wouldn’t think to call him a killer, really, because killing implies passion and hit men are, apparently, all business. Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is one of the best: he can make a death seem accidental, or he can “send a message.” He develops his fastidious plans in a modernist aerie lost in the Louisiana bayous, and likes to listen to Schubert on a very high-end LP player. (For fun, he soups up an old Corvette.) Determined to have none but satisfied customers, Bishop is perhaps overly inclined to believe what his paymasters tell him. Even though anyone in the audience over the age of ten can see that Tony Goldwyn is the bad guy, we have to admire Bishop’s ability to put assignment ahead of sentiment.

At the burial of Bishop’s mentor, McKenna (Donald Sutherland), our hero runs into  McKenna’s ne’er-do-well son (Ben Foster), who has so many issues that he can’t hold a job — but he can shoot. Bishop adopts him as a partner while Junior (his actual name is Steve) thinks about how to run down the man who killed his father — who is of course &c. Hair-raising adventures climax in the only possible way, and then go onto climax, once and for all, from there.

The Mechanic is not a mannered movie, but it is all about style — the masculine style of speaking softly while carrying deadly weapons. For that reason, it’s good to get Donald Sutherland out of the way early, just as it was in the remake of The Italian Job; Mr Sutherland has always been a scarily expressive actor and is not about to retire as such. And, again as in that film, he is once again closer to one of his colleagues in crime than he is to his own flesh and blood. Steve McKenna’s sulking is tolerable because it’s laced with astringent and even cocky self-hatred. Also, unlike his father, he is not wheelchair-bound. Mr Statham inhabits a role that was obviously conceived with him in mind — brooding, stoic, afflicted with painfully good mental health, and impressively articulate at those times when he has something to say. If Jason Statham is a favorite actor of mine, it’s precisely because he is able to make this bundle of masculine attributes interesting, and I admire his director, Simon West, for creating a film in which swaggering would be in bad taste. Mr West is also to be applauded for deploying the story’s weaponry and other matériel without showing off.

I had the feeling of watching a James Bond movie in 3-D, for full-dimensional characters. Even Bishop’s targets, odious as they may be, come to us as fully realized human beings. They don’t “deserve to die,” and there is nothing cartoonish about their deaths. (Their bodyguards are of course another matter.) Only an odd person would call The Mechanic a “feel-good” film, but its pieces come together with a very satisfying click — even if it’s a click that goes “boom.”