Mechanic, The (US - BD)
Gabe called Jason Statham to fix his car, and now his house is up in flames..
It’s almost moot to note that The Mechanic is a remake of a 1972 Charles Bronson movie, because the 1972 Charles Bronson movie was itself at least somewhat conceptually remade as just about every following (non-Western) Charles Bronson movie anyway, and wasn’t all that original to begin with. That’s not the point of this kind of medium-low budget feature. The point is to take a high concept and turn it into an orgy of crowd pleasing violence, spiked by a few cool one-liners, and men generally acting manly. The worst thing a movie like this can do is dare to be boring. In this case, boring constitutes any period of time without action lasting more than ten minutes. Or so I thought. Somehow The Mechanic, despite featuring a decent pace, a neat colour palette, and a collection of interesting faces grows dull in less than 20 minutes. Then there’s a twist… and I still struggled to care. I started to think I was sleepy, and got myself a caffeine fix. It didn’t work, now I was just more awake and not caring with greater intensity. The story follows Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham), an ace contract assassin who specializes in making his dirty work look like innocent accidents. One day, Bishop is contracted to kill his mentor Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), which bums him out a bit, but not enough to keep him from going through with the murder. Later, at the funeral Bishop meets up with Harry’s son, Steve (Ben Foster), who exhibits extremely violent behavior, and a thirst for revenge. Instead of avoiding further contact with the boy, since he’s the killer Steve is unknowingly seeking vengeance upon, Bishop takes the bundle of fury under his wing as an assassin in training.
My hesitation in seeing The Mechanic had nothing to do with my assumptions on the bare bones script (which were verified), or that the characters might be shallow (they were). It had everything to do with director Simon West. West is, in my opinion, the worst of a generation of directors to come out of ‘80s music videos, commercials, and the Jerry Bruckheimer machine. Michael Bay and Tony Scott don’t make many ‘good movies’, but they make plenty of ‘bad movies’ worth watching. They know their strengths and press themselves in the right directions. West has a semi-distinctive style, and knows where to place a camera, but his films lack tension and impact, and his most interesting visual moments are usually snatched wholesale from Ridley or Tony Scott. His two most watchable films – Con Air and The General’s Daughter – both worked their best when working against West’s passive hand with over-the-top performances, and goofy, but entertaining plot devices. In the case of The Mechanic he makes the mistake of confusing a gritty atmosphere with a literally gritty film stock. There’s no real edge given to the material, just surface level brutality. I’m most reminded of Jonathan Hensleigh The Punisher movie, which featured every manner of graphic violence, but never felt particularly threatening. Even the sex scenes, which have actual nudity (assuming you don’t blink), are somehow chaste, as if the production wasn’t going to commit to either an R or PG-13 rating. I’m not exactly sure how The Mechanic managed to be remade with such soft corners, but by God, West found a way.
Jason Statham has become a brand name, and I say good for him. He’s even managed to successfully and warmly spoof himself in record time, and is actually at his best when playing straight man to the wacky world around him in films like Crank and Transporter 2. The problem is he, too, has lost that edge he had back in the Guy Ritchie days. He didn’t really commit any brutal acts in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch, but as an audience member you got the feeling he was a real deal street thug. There was a time that this particular British flavoured Bruce Willis Junior kind of scared me, and that time has long since passed. And he was always so good with mouthfuls of words, it’s a pity he’s become the strong silent type. The bigger problem here is that Ben Foster, the guy who held his own against Russell Crowe and outshined Christian Bale in the 3:10 to Yuma remake, is almost totally wasted. Foster himself doesn’t do anything particularly wrong, he even states his oft-spoken lines with relative novelty, but his performance is all but ruined by a mix of West’s wacky editing techniques and generally bad writing. There’s no real tension behind his relationship with Statham beyond what we know based on the plot. Had Foster been given a proper chance to build this character up, a lot of cracks might have been filled, and the final coda would have real meaning, rather than just acting as the logical conclusion.
The Mechanic looks like just about every other Simon West movie your ever saw, which is to say it’s very gold and green. The only difference between this and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is The Mechanic is set to look dirtier, and thus features higher contrast and more grain. This 2.40:1, 1080p transfer pushes this particular style about as far as it can be in terms of sharpness, contrast balance, detail, and colour quality. There’s a lot of black, and this black is consistently deep, there’s a lot of grain, and this grain is consistently fine and unobtrusive. West alternates deep focus wide shots and short focus close-ups, and because of the stylistic film and lens choices super-fine detail is rarely part of the equation. However, edges are sharp, background details don’t turn into smudgy blurs unless clearly intended by short lenses, and occasionally extreme close-ups reveal some impressive skin and wardrobe textures.
For a modern action movie this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is pretty dull. There’s a heavy lean on music over sound design, which can often be an admirable trait, but in this case feels consistently lazy on the part of the filmmakers. There are some inspired musical choices, but I still feel like someone missed a big chance here. Gunshots are big and ballsy, with a whole lot of LFE support, but they, like the rest of the sound effects are most often delegated to the center channel, and rarely are included as directional work, save a handful of front to back items. Some of the more involved fisticuffs feature a little bit of movement, but again, most of the encompassing stereo and surround work is made expressive via music, especially percussive elements. Mark Isham’s soundtrack is a solid mix of many familiar action motifs creating a kind of dirty modern Bond sound. I was especially interested in his use of electric guitar during some of the non-action themes. This isn’t a bad or particularly weak track, but the original mixers don’t get quite as crazy with the material as I’d expect them to.
The special features here are brief, but not worthless. Things start with five deleted/extended/alternate scenes (10:50, HD). These feature some much needed development of Foster’s character, and the relationship between Statham and Sutherland. Had these been included the boring part of the movie would be elongated, but at least there’d be a little more reason for Statham and Foster to hook up. ‘Tool of the Trade: Inside the Action’ (7:50, HD) is a decent behind the scenes featurette that focuses mostly on the film’s big stunts, which somehow look a lot more impressive when being shot by the behind the scenes cameras. West found a way to make the real thing look CG. Extras are completed with Sony Blu-ray trailers.
I didn’t have high expectations for The Mechanic but was somehow still left disappointed. I want to lay most of the blame on director Simon West, who creates a listless atmosphere, loses the grit I’m sure was intended by the original screenplay, and wastes some solid performances. Those looking forward to the film should know the film moves pretty quickly, and the final 30 minutes feature enough violent action to almost make the boring first hour worth the investment. There’s a reasonably clever B-action flick in here, it just doesn’t manage to escape in time. The extras on this release are weak, and the image quality suffers a bit from the intended grainy look.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 17th May 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
Extras: Tools of the Trade, Deleted/Extended Scenes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Simon West
Cast: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland
Genre: Action and Crime
Length: 93 minutes
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