Before I get into the review, I want to go through a quick bit on how I decide what to review. The past few weeks, I’ve gone to see movies in the theatres that were based on or a continuation of an original work. Other times, I pick up a movie on DVD that looks like it would be interesting to review, good or bad. Then there’s how I chose The Mechanic; I picked up a DVD to watch for just entertainment and discover that it’s a remake of an earlier movie or based on a novel or short story. There are many movies throughout the history of Hollywood that were based on novels, short stories, and plays, and the output of film studios over the course of a hundred years means that I may not recognize a title as a remake. The discovery that a movie I’m watching is an adaptations means that my normal approach to reviews needs to take into account that I didn’t experience the original first. There’s a chance that the new order could skew the review.
The Mechanic, also known as The Killer of Killers, was released in 1972. Charles Bronson was known for his tough guy roles in movies like The Dirty Dozen, The Magnificent Seven, and Death Wish before starring in this movie. Playing Arthur Bishop, the titular hit man, the movie shows him going through two kills, the latter being his old friend, Harry McKenna. The McKenna’s son Steve, played by Jan Michael Vincent, seeks out Bishop to learn the trade. Bishop accepts Steve under his wing and starts teaching him not only his methods but his philosophy. However, the people who pay Bishop decide that this departure of the rules needs to be punished, setting up a conflict between mentor and teacher.
The remake of 2011 sees Jason Statham take on the Bronson role, with Ben Foster as the student Steve. The plot remains the same; Statham’s Bishop kills the father of Foster’s Steve and takes the kid under his wing. The difference comes in pacing. Bronson’s Mechanic is very much a character study of Arthur Bishop, a look into what makes a paid assassin tick, how he approaches his life. The 1972 movie is very much related to the earlier spaghetti westerns and samurai movies; Bronson’s Bishop has rules, both his own personal set and the set imposed by his employers, that he follows and is punished for breaking. The movie builds up suspense and drama, and takes its time showing who Arthur Bishop is. Statham’s Mechanic, however, is very much an action movie, and moves the focus from being a character study of Bishop to the mentor-student relationship between Bishop and Steve. The pace is faster; in the time it takes to get Bronson’s version to receive the order to kill Harry McKenna, Statham’s version has started Steve’s training. Both, however, keep the same ending for Steve.
As an adaptation, the 2011 remake changed the feel from the original. This is not necessarily a bad thing; as previously mentioned, a shot-for-shot remake will just have audiences wondering why they just didn’t watch the original. Changing to an action movie could draw in a larger audience, one that isn’t as used to the slower pace of the original. The focus on the relationship allowed the remake to explore a different aspect; instead of a samurai, Statham was more workman-like, professional, but doing a job instead of adopting a full lifestyle. Ultimately, it will come down to what a viewer wants, a character study of a hit man or an action movie involving the teaching of a specialized skill to a protege.
Next week, Muppets Most Wanted.