Those who remember the 1972 thriller The Mechanic, starring Charles Bronson as an impenetrably stoic hit man who takes a murdered friend’s son as his apprentice, will recognize the key players in Simon West’s louder, more aggressive remake.
Jason Statham is Arthur Bishop, younger but no less disillusioned than Bronson’s solitary killer; Ben Foster is Steve, his depraved understudy; Donald Sutherland is Harry, Bishop’s friend and Steve’s estranged father, whose association with the murder-for-hire crowd ends as violently as one might expect.
In the ’80s, there was no shortage of Hollywood he-men, guys who regularly toppled small armies and rescued whoever seemed worthy of rescuing. Stallone. Schwarzenegger. Seagal. Their names were synonymous with action, but not necessarily acting.
Times have changed. The musclebound enforcers of yesteryear have given way to caped crusaders and masked mutants, and the actors who play the new breed of superheroes are not reformed bodybuilders but plausible Oscar hopefuls: Robert Downey Jr, Edward Norton and the like. Yet here, as if to prove there’s still room for an old-fashioned big-screen brawler, stands Jason Statham.
When we’re young, we are told to stand up to bullies, to defend ourselves against those who prey on the supposedly weak. They are the real cowards, we are told, and once exposed, their true colors will be revealed.
The British criminal Charles Bronson, the subject of director Nicolas Winding Refn’s strangely fascinating but somewhat impenetrable new character study, isn’t a bully in the conventional sense. He doesn’t taunt his victims; he simply pulverizes them, sometimes with warning, sometimes without. He is remorseless, but hardly emotionless – a study in unadulterated rage, and not a man to provoke or engage.