The Mechanic

The Mechanic is, sadly, not as nifty as the previews promise. It lumbers along trying to make the conflicts and fight scenes meaningful, but it doesn’t take the time to think the relationships through and this weakens the entire movie.

Even the always-accessible and charming Jason Statham can’t elevate this flick beyond something of a clinical, joyless actioner.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released January 28, 2011

Written by Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino

Directed by Simon West

Starring Mini Anden, Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, and Tony Goldwyn

Rated: R

*     *     *     *      *

Story

Arthur Bishop (Statham) is a professional, slick, cold assassin who can be relied on to do his hit jobs flawlessly- making them look accidental as needed or anything else the client requires. After he is deceived and does a job he regrets, he finds motivation to go after the people who had his mentor (Sutherland) killed.

But in the meantime, his mentor’s son, Steve (Foster) is a lackadaisical no-good punk who doesn’t seem to have any reason to feel sentimental about his dad. Nonetheless, he wants revenge and he convinces Bishop to train him as an assassin. Steve finds direction in this path and it turns out he isn’t bad at it, but his lack of polish, control, and focus dooms him to not being anywhere near as good as Bishop.

The two work together to do jobs here and there, and having Steve around throws Bishop’s routine off. Add to this the totally forgettable dalliances that Bishop has with Sarah, who it appears is a high-priced prostitute who has feelings for Bishop and for whom, if he had the ability to do so, Bishop my have feelings as well.

Soon Steve and Bishop home in on Dean (Goldwyn) as the big baddie. Dean is also the boss of the network that Bishop has been working for, so the guy has a lot of resources to dedicate to stopping Bishop and his protege.

This all leads to bullets flying, clever maneuvering, nifty fights, and the question of whether the servant has become the master.

Critique

The only things that The Mechanic has going for it are three good actors doing as best they can and some fun action scenes. But even those action scenes can’t top the opening sequence wherein Bishop assassinates a very bad man.

Statham is wonderful at the slow burn and we want to see his righteous rage burning in the set of his stubbled jaw and square chin, but there’s not enough emotional weight to the conflicts in The Mechanic, so Statham never really gets to slow burn. He does what he can, and Foster is great as a wily, vindictive punk, but the writers didn’t think nearly enough about what would drive these characters and how their relationships really would work. Goldwyn does a workaday job as a villain. It would be nice if he could find another role, though.

Despite some fairly solid action sequences and plenty of attempts to make the viewer care about what’s going on, those attempts fall flat because we are just never given a reason to root for, or hate, anyone. Thus, this is a flat action flick that only really engages when the fights get going.

Content warnings: salty language, some sexuality and nudity, plenty of heavy violence

Writing: 2.5          Acting: 4          Overall: 2.5

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The Eagle

The Eagle seems to be billed as an action-packed near-thriller. Instead, it is a fairly slow-moving look at how a young man’s idea of honor is tempered by the realities of the world around him. And it’s pretty good, too.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released February 11, 2011

Written by Jeremy Brock, based on the novel by Rosemary Sutcliff

Directed by Kevin Macdonald

Starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, and Denis O’Hare

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Marcus Flavius Aquila (Tatum) is determined to win back the honor lost by his father. His father was the leader of the Ninth legion of the Roman Empire, whose standard was a golden eagle, and which legion was completely lost/destroyed somewhere north of Hadrian’s wall.

That’s right: the year is 140 AD and Rome runs most of the world.

So Marcus has risen in the ranks of centurions and has just received a new commission in Britain, where he is in charge of a garrison and its fort. He leads his men in an impressive rout of attacking natives, being badly injured in the process. Due to the injury, Marcus has the opportunity to travel north and find the lost eagle standard, whereupon he would win back the honor to his family name. He convinces his uncle (Sutherland) to let him go, and that his slave, Esca (Bell), will not stab him on the journey.

So Marcus and Esca head north, with Esca having pledged his honor to Marcus due to a debt Esca feels he owes. Adventures ensue as Marcus has his ideas about honor challenged and he starts to find reason to break from the Roman party line regarding how honor is won. At the same time, the relationship between Esca and Marcus is explored as duty gives way to respect and friendship.

Critique

The Eagle is, again, not an action-packed thrill ride. It’s also not too concerned with accents, accuracy, and geography. But this film gets a few things right.

First off, the writing and direction allows for extended, character-building scenes, wherein multiple conflicts help the audience see what the characters are truly made of. Furthermore, there are some solid surprises that come from characters’ decisions and there are plenty of opportunities for characters to redeem themselves.

Secondly, the movie is well cast. Given that the film is not really a dramatic actioner but is instead a sometimes dramatic, sometimes stolid, sometimes tense, exploration of friendship and honor and loyalty, it is nice that the actors are young and can convincingly demonstrate a real arc. This arc shows the young men going from somewhat naive to a more grounded outlook on life.

The film is also beautifully shot and very well paced. The Eagle might not satisfy action film fans’ bloodlust and desire for colorful explosions, but it delivers an almost gentle resolution for Marcus, wherein he realizes his life is his own to live and honor is an every day thing.

Issues that don’t allow The Eagle to truly take off include a somewhat stolid pace and not quite enough effort from Tatum. It’s kind of slow at times and Tatum is very serious here. It might have been nice to explore a little more humor.

Content warnings: Some somewhat bloody violence.  

Writing: 4          Acting: 3.5          Overall: 3.5

Fly like an eagle to your social networks and share this review, wouldja? This will bring honor to all of us.

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