Cut to a wide establishing shot of a sprawling mansion. Inside, a pool’s murky black water bears an oily sheen, highly reflective of the dusty light leaking through a wall-sized window. A South American drug lord – or so you assume – dives headlong into the pool. Muscular bodyguards equipped with semi-automatic weapons line the overlooking balcony and hover along the edge of the water, wary of intruders. “The best jobs are the ones that nobody knows that you were even there,” Jason Statham explains grittily in voiceover. Then suddenly, the drug lord sees something shiny at the bottom of the pool while swimming; he dives to inspect the glimmer – it’s his watch. But just as he grasps the cool metal, a figure garbed in black lurches from the depths – it’s Statham. He grabs a hold of the drug lord like a killer python.
Action and suspense! Cool, sleek and sexy brutality. You’ll find all the heart-jacking dressings you’ve come to expect from martial arts master Statham in this invigorating tale of vengeance and brotherhood. Building on Statham’s previous success in similar films, director Simon West presents a high-quality film that, in its failure to innovate, perfects a formula to great success. Every drifting dolly shot, every blurry sunset reeks of finely tuned virility. Murder and assassination never looked so good.
As is usually the case with Statham, the acting is spot on. Even taking into consideration that Statham is playing the same character as he has in almost every other film he’s appeared in, his acting remains as fun and engaging as it ever was. Like our insatiable taste for James Bond and his charming quips, Statham is similarly magnetic in film after film. That’s because he follows a simple formula.
With little variation, he plays a super-buff, emotionally steely badass. He is almost always engaged in a morally questionable profession, be it bank robbing, transporting smuggled goods, killing for money, etc. And the twist is that in every case when asked to do something particularly dastardly, Statham reveals that he isn’t as cold-hearted as he pretends to be. No, underneath his strapping figure is a heart of gold. At which point he proceeds to go rogue, turn against the bad guys he previously worked for and bring the full might of his butt-kicking skills to bear. And it’s awesome.
But something is different in The Mechanic. The content is somewhat more disturbing. The redeeming kernel that grounded most of Statham’s other films – the fact that he was true of heart despite his choice of work – is hauntingly absent. The turning point, at which Statham – who is playing a ‘mechanic,’ a.k.a. an assassin – would typically choose the path of good over evil, comes when he is asked to execute an old friend. Rather than saying screw you, as you would expect, he agrees to the job. The rebelling part comes later, after he’s done the deed, once he’s realized that he was tricked into it, which entirely changes his motivation. He’s not mad because someone asked too much of him – no, he’s mad because he was duped.
And then you add Ben Foster’s character, Steve McKenna, into the mix. Son of the assassinated old friend, he plays a borderline sadist with a chilling thirst for violence. Statham’s character, Arthur Bishop, feels responsible for Steve, having just murdered his father (although Steve does not know that). Hoping to redeem himself, he agrees to take Steve on as an assassin-in-training. However, this proves to exacerbate Steve’s penchant for acts of brutality: his first assignment is so savage, so ruthlessly violent, that it’s hard to watch without cringing.
Motivations and moral dilemmas aside, what you have is a fantastic film filled with the sort of action and sex and thrills that fans of Statham have come to love about his work. Honestly, the movie is fairly difficult not to enjoy – which, perhaps, is exactly why you’re left feeling somewhat anxious at the end. It’s as though you’re a child who has just stolen a cookie from the cookie jar – a mixture of misdeed and sweet chocolate makes for an odd, yet thrilling pleasure.
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