At this point, while the legendary string of '80s testosterone-fueled action heroes (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Norris) aren't quite ready to hang it up, none of them can carry an action movie like Jason Statham. Between the joyously over-the-top Crank films, the slick Transporter series, his collaborations with director Guy Ritchie, and interesting detours like The Italian Job and The Bank Job, Statham has proven to be a steel-eyed, hard-muscled man's man with a sharp sense of humor -- he's even capable of vulnerability. He's never played against type, but he's found plenty of subtle variations on that type. And, to its great benefit, The Mechanic utilizes all his skills.
Statham plays Arthur Bishop, a "fixer" for a powerful yet shady corporation who specializes in killing people with efficiency and/or style -- whatever best serves his boss' needs. Arthur's absolute mastery of this talent -- as well as his sculpted torso and arms -- is revealed in the opening, where he assassinates a Columbian tycoon in the man's swimming pool.
Of course a man with Arthur's career lives by a code, and his only loyalty is to Harry (Donald Sutherland), his mentor in the corporation. But when Bishop learns that Harry is the company's next target, business is business. Enter Ben Foster as Harry's ne'er-do-well, heavy-drinking son, Steve. With his father out of the picture, Steve wants Arthur to train him to become a mechanic as well. Together, they plot revenge on Harry's killer, but because Steve suspects Arthur might have pulled the trigger himself, the bonds of trust between the two might be imaginary.
The best thing about The Mechanic is the debt it owes to crime films from the early '70s. It's a remake of a Charles Bronson movie, and it has the patient rhythms and the existential dread of such influential masterworks as Point Blank. Statham is one of the few stars around who can make it seem that still waters run deep inside a person who, by all outside appearances, is a cold-blooded killer. And since the tight screenplay (the movie clocks in at under 90 minutes, minus the closing credits) keeps him at the center of just about every scene, we cheer consistently for his meticulous mastery of every situation -- including some improvised torture involving a garbage disposal and a young woman's hand.
As much as this is Statham's film, Ben Foster becomes a welcome complement. He's done really strong dramatic work on Six Feet Under, and in The Messenger, but here Foster's resemblance to a young Sean Penn helps make Steve a plausible loose cannon -- intense, reckless, and unpredictable. The term chemistry usually gets thrown around in romantic comedies, but chemistry is exactly what he and Statham have. Not Newman/Redford chemistry, but certainly enough to keep this hard-hitting, entertaining action film from dragging.
Director Simon West does a solid job pacing the movie -- he makes you wait for the big action set pieces in order to build anticipation, and while too much of the hand-to-hand fight sequences are edited beyond the point of comprehension, these scenes are also brief enough that we don't lose interest.