For his being one of the premiere action stars of our time I think I’ve seen a grand total of two Jason Statham films prior to this loose remake of the 1970s Bronson picture. And I don’t know that I’ll be seeing anymore any time soon.
The Mechanic is about Arthur Bishop (Statham), an elite hit man who takes on a younger, loose-cannon-type apprentice named Steve (Ben Foster). There’s plenty of action, double-crossing, and a surprising amount of good acting, mostly by Foster and Donald Sutherland, who plays the wheelchair-bound Harry, Bishop’s old mentor and friend.
Here’s the thing with The Mechanic. On one hand it’s obvious that it’s director, Simon West, is not a rookie. Most of the scenes are well put together. There’s a twist or two that almost work. And there’s at least one beginning to an action sequence that’s somewhat tense. But all of this leads to me to a question:
Who’s fault is it when a script is bad? The obvious answer is the writer’s. I agree with that if we’re still in pre-production, but once we get past that stage I think that some of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of the producer and director. Their job descriptions are, concisely put and respectively, to oversee the general production and make sure it runs smoothly and to oversee the aesthetics, feel and emotion of the film. Both have to oversee. Both should have some responsibility.
So…this is one flawed script. First, as with every single action film, the writer and director here mistake the word “climax” to mean “lots of violence,” and replace what should be the end of a teacher/student relationship with lots of fireballs. Okay, I’ve seen films that end in all hell breaking loose that I love. It’s not inherently a bad thing. But here’s the major problem (which may contain a small SPOILER or two)…
Arthur Bishop’s sense of justice is ridiculously incoherent. And he’s not the type of character who is introduced to have a ridiculously incoherent sense of justice. It’s a flaw in the film. There are a series of events that say that his idea of justice doesn’t match what our director wants us to think is his sense of guilt.
Bishop takes on Steve out of pure guilt. There’s no other motivation. There’s nothing that point far enough ahead to say he’s doing it out of the vengeance he ultimately plans. There’s no “friends close (potential) enemies closer” in here. It’s guilt, pure and simple. So guilt is leading 1 – 0.
Just before that, Bishop has to kill someone, who will remain unnamed but you should most definitely be able to figure it out. It’s a tough kill for him. The hardest in his career. But he does it out of faithfulness to the job. Still, it’s the only time in the entire film we see him as reluctant. More guilt. But only half guilt, because he pulls the trigger. 1.5 – 0.
Now later in the film Steve starts to catch onto Bishop’s past. We know as much as Steve, and, thanks to a quick shot of a particular piece of evidence, we soon realize that Bishop also knows what Steve knows. So what does Steve do? The obvious (and, the “correct” thing within the script). He tries to kill Bishop. This works. Student becoming teacher, etc. But for this moment to work in terms of Bishop there should be a few choices: 1) Bishop sacrifices himself (out of character), but at least pays for his past crimes. 2) Bishop gets away, but lets Steve know that he got away. He keeps his badassness intact, but doesn’t reciprocate in an unnecessary way. 3) Bishop gets away, Steve thinks he killed him. End of story.
Instead of any of these, Bishop actually gets away and then comes back and kills Steve! It’s illogical from a character standpoint, completely eradicating any of the prior 1.5 – 0 guilt established before. It makes the final score 1.5 – 10! Okay, I understand. Bishop is a trained man. He’s cold-hearted (unless he’s with a prostitute). He’s a killing machine. But those two prior moments claim otherwise. Director West and writers Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino try to quickly explain all of this away when, in a confrontation with a critical man from his past, Bishop is told that he’s not in it to even any scores (ie guilt), but is instead in it because he’s been fooled (ie pride). So he makes the aforementioned difficult kill out of pride? He takes Steve on out of pride? I’m not buying it.
Two other quick notes here: who is hiring hit men to kill the wealthy sexual predators of the world? Is this an equally wealthy underground of molestation victims out for revenge? Doesn’t seem to be the case, but Bishop and Steve spend a good deal of this movie killing large men with a penchant for what his employer deems sexual deviance.
The montage, where Bishop and Steve get to know each other, is pretty hilarious. Here’s what Steve’s training – before going to kill a pretty deadly adversary – involves: lots of shooting, reading a few insurance books about death, and drinking coffee. And more shooting. I’d say he’s ready. Throw him to the wolves, Bishop!