Sunday, January 30, 2011

'The Mechanic' 2011

This was the first film I saw in the last two weeks and it was fine as far as it went. The main problem was my expectations. I enjoy Jason Statham in many movies. He is a good go to tough guy and when I first heard about the movie I thought this was a pretty good bit of casting. One of my students in the summer Interpersonal class, got a chance to see this back in July at a test screening. He was not particularly enthusiastic, but I still had very high hopes. He did not know that it was a remake and this is fundamental to my difficulty relating to some of my students. They are often bright and friendly but many have no sense of the past. It is as if the world started when they became conscious of music or TV. The other day, the name of Billy Dee Williams came up in class and I said "Lando Calrissian", someone quipped, "how did you come up with that?", as if it were an obscure referent. Even the Star wars movies are somewhat abstract to many of them. So how could any of them appreciate the great Charles Bronson, a guy they would see as their great grandfather, based on age alone. And so it was that most people seeing this movie will have no expectation because they have no knowledge of what came before. This is probably a good thing for the current movies success but a bummer for those drawn in by the original.

In the summer blog, I mentioned the Mechanic as a film I knew almost by heart. It was not on the list of summer movies I wrote about, but every time Charles Bronson is mentioned, "The Mechanic" is one of my go to images. The 2011 model is serviceable as an action film with some interesting twists, but it lacks the tension of the original. In the opening, there is a clever assassination, but we don't see it set up, there is no suspense, and although we can appreciate afterwords the originality of the approach, it doesn't set up the main character very well. All we learn is that he is ruthless and maybe a little too smart. In the original film, we see the first hit set up, we watch as the victim strolls through a set of ordinary activities as he is being stalked. We get a bird's eye view of the daily minutiae that makes up his life. The assassin, also watches, we see him planning but we do not immediately understand how he is going to carry out that kill. Then, we marvel at the clever way the observations have been followed and the murder committed. All of this is done without any dialogue, and our silent killer tells us more about his personality with thirty seconds of squeezing a ball of paraffin wax, than we get in an hour and a half with the new guy. This is another difference between film makers of today and those of the past. The screenwriter for the new version follows the story beats, but misses the nuance of the story. The action is jacked up quite a bit at the loss of suspense.

There is one good suspense scene in today's movie. Arthur Bishop, the title character, has taken on an apprentice,Steve, one that is loath to follow directions and is trying to make a mark for himself and get a little battle scarred along the way. Three weeks of set up is designed to get him close to another contract killer that is the subject of the current assignment. When the young apprentice backs away from the original plan, there is uncertainty as to how it will be resolved. A tough and brutal fight ensues and there is good reason to believe the outcome will be a disaster. Steve is played by Ben Foster in a crazy eyed manner reminiscent of the same kind of sidekick role he had in the remake of 3:10 to Yuma a couple of years ago. He had less screen time in that film, but was a more vivid character than the troubled psycho he plays in this film.

I did like the update that was done on the story in regards to the relationship between Bishop and the man who he works for and is destined to become a target. There is a greater sense of clarity concerning why he would care about the apprentice, but while it was more logical that the original it was less interesting. The consequences in the second half make a more driven plot element than the original, but the revenge theme is a well worn trope. Character is critical to making us care about the outcome when the protagonist is a bad guy, and the apprentice is a psycho. Statham's version of Arthur Bishop has some of the same quirks as in the original, but he does not sell it. The music, the car, the woman he has sex with, are all just costumes for him to put on, they do not seem like they are real. Bronson may have had a stoic face, but he sold isolation, superiority and menace without having to paint it on.

The contemporary music, and the style of shooting is solid. The movie has been put together well by people that are competent, but the script and the acting are the weak links in the film. I have been quoting an annoying line used by Jan Michael Vincent in the first version for more that thirty-five years. His character was an interesting jerk, but it was clear he was always an irritating guy from the way he delivered the lines. I cannot remember a single sentence from the movie today. There was nothing clever in the dialogue, and the acting consisted of character traits rather than true character. If the original had never existed, this movie might seem better, as it is, there is little to recommend it except for strict lovers of hard action. They screw around with the ending, so it is so much less memorable that the first film, and as a result deserves it's lesser status.

Here's a trailer for the retitled original: Enjoy

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