A few years ago, I declared that January should just be renamed Statham because seriously, Jason Statham was in like almost every single freaking movie released that month. Seriously, it was like every time I turned on the TV, there was yet a new commercial featuring Jason Statham in some movie that I had absolutely no desire to see. “Oh look,” I’d say, “that’s Jason Statham swinging a sword. Oh, now he’s driving a car really fast. Oh, wow, now Jason Statham’s looking off to the side and squinting…”
Well, this January, Jason Statham is only starring in one film and it might be the best of his career. At the very least, it’s the first time I’ve been able to kind of see the guy’s appeal as a film star. That film is The Mechanic and it opened this week.
In the Mechanic, Jason Statham plays a contract killer. He’s known as a mechanic because he “fixes” problems. After Statham’s mentor (Donald Sutherland) is killed, Statham takes the man’s son (Ben Foster) under his wing and starts to teach Foster the tools of the trade. However, unlike the cool and detached Statham, Foster is a jittery and angry psychopath. However, despite their differing approaches, they are forced to work together when the same man (Tony Goldwyn) who ordered Sutherland’s murder decides to come after them.
As I stated before, I’ve never quite gotten the appeal of Jason Statham as an actor. In fact, as Jeff and I waited for the film to start, I said, “I’ve never really gotten Jason Statham.” As soon as I said that, this woman sitting in front of us turned around in her seat and I swear to God, she rolls her eyes at me in this way that said, “Bitch, please. Like Jason Statham would ever give your raggedy ass a second look.”
I proceeded to narrow my eyes in a way that said, “You best be watching what you say, you nasty ass ho.”
She cocked her head in a way that said, “Oh, no you didn’t!”
I flared my nostrils in a way that said, “Oh yes, I did, you hootchie ass skank…”
She leaned forward as if to say, “Gurl, you need to get Jesus in your life…”
I smirked as if to say, “Jesus? What does Jesus have to do with this?”
Before she could answer, the movie started.
Anyway, what was my point? Oh yes, Jason Statham. In the past, I’ve never gotten his appeal but in this film, I did. For the first time, I saw him as something other than just an expressionless English guy. Statham is athletic but, unlike a lot of other action movie stars, he’s not so ludicrously muscle-bound that you can’t believe him as some guy you might run into out on the street. Previously, I just thought that Statham was a bad actor but, with the Mechanic, I realized that, whereas other actors act with their eyes and their voice, Statham acts with his body. You look at Statham with his constant scowl and his cold eyes and you believe that he could kill someone in real life as well as in the movies. Statham is perfectly cast as a professional killer and The Mechanic wisely doesn’t try to suggest that the character is anything more than just a very disciplined sociopath. Much like the best pulp heroes, Statham’s mechanic is a hero by default. He’s a bad guy but everyone else in the movie is worse.
Also, there’s a scene about ten minutes into the film where Statham, fresh from killing a drug lord, changes clothes in a linen closet and as soon as he removed his shirt, I said, “Oh, I see the appeal now.”
Playing opposite of Statham, Ben Foster gives another one of his intense performances. Throughout the film, Foster is perpetually on the verge of exploding and his typically high energy performance provides a nice contrast to Statham’s typical nonperformance. He’s the Eli Wallach to Statham’s Clint Eastwood. However, Foster doesn’t just rely on theatric for his character. Instead, he gives a complex, multi-faceted performance as a character who, in the hands of a lesser actor, could have just been your average psychopath. He even manages to win some sympathy for a character who, on paper, wouldn’t seem to deserve it. Even more importantly, he brings out the best in Statham in a way that previous co-stars like Sylvester Stallone couldn’t.
Director West keeps the action moving quickly without ever letting the movie degenerate into just a collection of over-the-top set pieces. When the film does break out into action, West handles it like a pro and, as spectacular as the action may get, he still manages to keep things in the realm of the believable. However, West also invests the film with a dark, almost grim atmosphere that fills every scene with a feeling of impending doom and growing paranoia.
The Mechanic is a fast-paced, unapologetic thriller that, in its way, ultimately becomes a masterpiece of the pulp imagination. It’s very easy to imagine this as an Antonio Margheriti film from the early 80s, starring David Warbeck and Giovanni Lombardo Radice in the Statham and Foster roles. Both director West and the cast deserve to be applauded for making a grindhouse film for the 21st Century.