The Mechanic(1972)

No not the new Jason Statham vehicle by the same name (a remake of this version from 1972), well not entirely anyway.  This review’s all about the original, starring the one and only Charles Bronson, and I'll compare to the remake on a few points since I've seen both.  I had never heard of this movie until when I read reviews of the recent move and they said it was a remake.  I loved the Death Wish movies, and Bronson was ace in The Dirty Dozen, so I figured I should probably track this down and check it out.

If you don’t already know the story of The Mechanic then allow me to lay it out for you.  See Bronson plays Arthur who works as a mechanic who doesn’t so much fix broken cars or washing machines, but mostly fixes up loose ends.  And by fixing I mean killing, and by loose ends I mean people, mostly snitches.  Thing is, he isn’t just some thug who guns you down in a drive by shooting or strangles you with a piece of piano wire in the alley behind a bar.  No, he carefully plans out every hit to the smallest detail in order to make all of the deaths appear to be accidents or even natural causes.  This way, everything works out nice and clean, because it’s hard for rival organizations and what not to get revenge against natural causes and Murphy’s law; those two are more or less untouchable methinks.

One thing I preferred in this movie was it felt a little more gritty and realistic in a lot of ways whereas the remake felt a little too Hollywood cliché.  For example (SPOILERS AHEAD):  in the new movie all of Statham’s victims, except for his mentor, were people who were clearly “bad guys”.  You had your stereotypical Columbian drug lord whose thugs beat people with the butts of their machine guns when a broken down wagon is in the way of the Drug Lords convoy, the disgusting fat pedophile, Ketamine addicted, cult leader televangelist, and the boy/Chihuahua loving rival hit man.  In this way Arthur mk2 is clearly still the “good guy” even though he’s a cold blooded killer, he’s only killing scum.  In the original movie, it plays out a bit more real world. 

Arthur basically just kills snitches or people threatening the organization he works for.  They don’t go into elaborate back stories setting these people up as evil, he’s simply told their snitches or a problem and need to be removed.   I mean I could see taking out the drug lord in the new one for reasons of competition or something (it isn’t really made clear exactly what the organization has their fingers into, but all the usual stuff like drugs, prostitution, gambling, money laundering, etc seem like pretty good guesses), but why the fat televangelist guy?  I liked how the original doesn’t try to elevate Arthur above the people he’s killing and make him a “hero”.  You’ll still root for him, trust me there, but not because you think he’s a good guy, but mostly because it’s really cool to see him work and Bronson is an eternal bad ass.

In terms of acting I’m probably going to give the edge to the new movie.  I preferred Bronson’s rendition of Bronson in this movie to Statham’s rendition of Statham in the remake, but the rest of the cast was clearly outshone by the remake.  One sequence that did give me a nice surprise though and was actually pretty funny in a sort of sad/black humour way was when Arthur visits the hooker in the original.  At first I thought she was just a really fucking shitty actress (note the use of both fucking and shitty here, it was that bad) hamming out all these lines about how she missed him so much and loved him and reading him this letter she had to write him but couldn’t mail him because he doesn’t have an address and all this crap.  The type of dialogue you’d hear in a movie made in the 30’s or 40’s or something where women were portrayed like ridiculously infantile helpless “dames”.  Arthur takes her off to bed amidst a shower of smooches and “I love you so much darling, I love you much” (who the fuck says darling?).  But then when he’s getting dressed to leave afterward she tells him he has to pay her an extra 100 bucks because it was hard to come up with the letter she had written and all of those lines, and you realize that this was all a pre-arranged performance for Arthur’s benefit because he’s actually kind of a pathetically lonely dude behind the hardened exterior and all his expulsion about how people who live outside of the law often become heroes in history ends up feeling more like he’s in denial when you think about it from this angle.

It’s stuff like this that I felt was missing from the new movie where Statham’s Arthur is pretty much just superman.  I liked how Bronson’s Arthur could simultaneously be this expert cold blooded killer, and all around tough as nails motherfucker.  But then at the same time he’s flawed and has to pop all sorts of anti-depressants and compulsively squeeze a ball of wax (which he then lies about being for finger strength later when asked about it).

The kid he takes on to train is another matter though.  The remake handed it to the old movie in this respect, and Ben Foster’s performance was actually the main reason why I enjoyed the remake overall.  The guy they have in this one just doesn’t really sell it to me.  I think they were going for the detached sociopathic combined with asshole rich kid attitude, but his line delivery often sounded pretty forced.

The music in this movie was actually really good to and went a long way to establishing a sense of uneasiness throughout the movie.  Normally action films from the 70’s and early 80’s had pretty cheesy music and a light hearted vibe, but you don’t get any synth or music that sounds like you could pimp to it here.  No disco or hippies with stolen diamonds to be found.  Instead you get a piano dominated score that almost sounds grating and would feel right at home in a slow burning horror like the Exorcist or other dark pictures from the time period.  It really helps set the mood that at any moment a guy with Arthur’s skills could be watching you from a window across the street with binoculars figuring out all the ways he could kill you and no one would know it was murder, and the thought is actually kind of scary.  It also reflects Arthur’s character and how he isn’t a happy man, he’s lonely and isolated, but he can’t stop what he’s doing both because the retirement plan in his line of work sucks (they kill you) and you get the impression that he’s compelled to kill so he won’t stop.  Kudos on the music guys; nice and timeless, really well done.

Action in this thing was also quite good.  It takes a little longer before the more exciting stuff kicks in, but then you get a nice motorcycle chase, scuba diving to a yacht for an amphibian sneak attack, machine gun fights, lots of sweet explosions, cars getting trashed, using a bulldozer as a weapon, good shit.  And of course you can actually tell what’s going on because the camera doesn’t shake all around and there aren’t 250 edits for a character to punch a guy or anything on screen.  Can’t say as much for the remake I’m afraid as it has a bit too much of that “modern” action style that I’m not really a big fan of, although the fighting is bloodier so it does have an edge there. 

I’m giving The Mechanic (1972) a hearty recommendation here folks.  If you’ve never seen a Charles Bronson movie before, this isn’t a bad place to start, and then get Death Wish for some sweet revenge vigilantism (and another film where it isn’t always clear if the protagonist is really the “good guy” or not).  I’m also gonna say check out the new one too.  It’s another solid entry into the Statham pantheon, and Ben Foster rocks in it (he drinks enough whiskey to kill a fucking horse in this thing, so extra points there).

Thumbs up for the Mechanics, especially the 1972 version. 

See this shit!!