“Clean. Fast. Professional.”
Directed by Michael Winner
Starring Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent and Keenan Wynn
Meticulous hitman Arthur Bishop (Bronson) tries to intercede with the organisation on behalf of his mentor Big Harry (Wynn), but instead finds himself tasked with Harry’s assassination. From a mixture of loneliness and guilt, he takes Harry’s son Steve (Vincent) under his wing and begins to train the reckless boy as a ‘mechanic’.
The two hone their work as a team, despite opposition from Bishop’s masters. Ultimately, a job proves to be a trap, the real targets Bishop and Steve. They fight their way out and Bishop acknowledges that Stevehas mastered their craft. To prove it, Stevepaints his mentor’s glass with poison, not to avenge his father, having never suspected it was murder, but because he sees Bishop’s dependence on a master to tell him who to kill to be a weakness. Then he goes home and is killed by a booby trap that Bishop set up, just in case.
What’s wrong with it?
Yes, the film wastes its set up on mere subtext, rather than a planned exploration of a manipulative homosexual relationship, due to executive meddling.
And yet there is only one female ‘character’, a prostitute hired by Bishop for a regular ‘girlfriend experience’ as part of his attempts to stave off depression.
Bronson is not the best actor, and Jan-Michael Vincent displays the same range of nuanced emotion that he brought to the role of Stringfellow Hawke in classic 80s ‘I remember the theme tune’ technothriller Airwolf (aka Knight Rider in a helicopter.)
After the opening assassination, the film is more devoted to action scenes than maintaining that sedate pace, although by modern standards it seems kind of slow.
What’s right with it?
The film begins with a fifteen minute speechless sequence, as Bishop researches his latest hit; spying on his target with a telephoto lens disguised as a child’s novelty microscope and setting up an elaborate ploy with acid, gum, drugged tea and a book smeared with what looks like chocolate spread to fake a gas explosion.
Although neither is exactly Olivier, Bronson and Vincent have a certain chemistry and convince as the multidysfunctional duo.
How bad is it really?
So, the most noticeable thing about The Mechanic is that it is very, very seventies, from its suits to its oddly genteel stripper bar to its fetishisation of karate. In terms of quality, it’s a film at war with itself, struggling to include both the requisite mindless action and a complex story of a depressed and isolated killer desperate for some sort of human contact and his relationship with a man who is, or at least believes himself to be, removed from such needs. If nothing else, it’s more interesting than your run of the mill hitman movie, and both better and more Hitman than any actual Hitman movie.
Best bit (if such there is)?
The opening, which follows through the assassination with no actual action sequences and almost no gunplay, is excellent.
What’s up with…?
- Charles Bronson? I mean, does he ever look like anything else? It’s like Winner said ‘What should this character look like? Oh, I know; like Bronson looks in everything.‘
Production values – It’s a tough one to call. The film is made on grainy old-school filmstock, and has little in the way of pyrotechnics, but the explosions are good and the dialogue mostly clear. The suits were probably Kingsman cool at the time. 6
Dialogue and performances – The leads are not the greatest double act in history, but they have a certain je ne sais quoi which sells the all-important relationship. Unfortunately, they do have the film to carry more or less alone. 9
Plot and execution – The film struggles somewhat with what it wants to be and what it’s being shoehorned into, to the detriment of the slower, cleverer aspects of the underlying story. 12
Randomness – The strip club is a bit… gratuitous. 3
Waste of potential – This is one of those films which visibly had a more interesting pitch before they ‘sexed it up’. 14