'Mechanic' Review: Gory, Hard-Hitting Fun

Hollywood’s romanticized assassins are artists, and their hands, knives, guns are their paintbrushes. Murder is their canvas. “The Mechanic” details the romanticized world of assassin “firms with brutal clarity. In this world of one-use cell phones and “jobs” stashed in manila envelopes, Arthur (Jason Statham) is a master “mechanic,” a fixer whose perfect hits mirror the immaculate retro life he leads, complete with a hobby classic he’s fixing in the garage and vinyl Shubert on the stereo, which he cleans before every play. This life is disrupted when Steve (Ben Foster), the washed-up, violently rebellious son of Arthur’s late mentor, comes to him for training. When Arthur’s firm turns on him, he and protégé Steve take the battle to the firm’s door. It’s explosive, just like the trailer promises.

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Writers Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino have written dynamic characters into a fun, moderately suspenseful action-packed assassin movie. Arthur’s a likable killer who does his job well. His only weakness is a hooker girlfriend. Aside from that, his hidden home in the New Orleans bayou sports a classic American elegance, his slice of the American Dream. But it’s a little cliché. Fixing cars is a go-to movie hobby, and generally not inventive.

Assassins are all the same, Wenk and Carlino seem to say. One of Arthur’s targets is a cautious, clean mountain of a man who works for a rival firm. The man enjoys painting, lives in a spotless mansion in New Orleans and also drives a luxury car. The target’s one flaw is also sexual – it’s just a bit more devious than Arthur’s.

This makes Foster’s Steve the most interesting character in the story. He’s a down-and-out bare-knuckles kid who smokes and drinks incessantly and hates rules. He’s not this film’s typical assassin. When Arthur tells him to get lost, Steve won’t take no for an answer. And when Arthur tells him to make his first kill a clean one, he ignores the command, preferring an intense bloody mess to show he’s just as tough as his teacher. But for all his stupidity and arrogance, Steve’s a real person – just one you don’t want to cross.

This is a brutal action movie. Director Simon West greedily zooms in for more of every kick to the face, every exploding gunshot to the head, drinking in the violence. It’s not as bloody as “The Wolfman,” but it’s enough to make you cringe.

In typical Statham fashion, sex accompanies violence. Also in typical Statham fashion, the sex does basically nothing to further the plot of the film – this one less so than some of his others. His hooker girlfriend is essentially needless, revealing next to nothing about Arthur’s character, but a lot of herself.

“The Mechanic” soundtrack is mournful, with Shubert’s haunting and soulful Piano Trio in E Flat, Op. 100 as a theme, one that’s built on with a bit of jazz and rock.

Despite its brutality, there’s beauty to the action. When Steve beats up a carjacker, it’s like a brown gel covers the camera, painting New Orleans in earthy tones. The first kill, in the opening moments of the film, show not only Arthur’s skill, but West’s too, as he pieces together the angles of Arthur in a pool, his target swimming, the target’s guards and attendants wandering the levels of the room. The calculated killings require improvisation, and the brilliance behind each hit elevates this film above many other Statham movies.

Arthur says, “What I do requires a certain mindset,” and the film seems to say that letting a job get to you is a cardinal sin that can be your downfall. There’s a great climax, beyond the inevitable showdown between Arthur and the firm, and it comes in the form of a few glances, bluffing, meaning-filled questions between Arthur and Steve in a tense scene at a gas station.

In the end, the film nicely ties up its loose ends, and enshrines an archetype of what a great hit-man is with a simple phrase: “Victory loves preparation.” In “The Mechanic,” it’s a truth that’s fully realized.

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