The Mechanic (1972)
“Clean. Fast. Professional.”
Director: Michael Winner
Cast: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn
Synopsis: An aging hitman befriends a young man who wants to be a professional killer. Eventually it becomes clear that someone has betrayed them.
WARNING – This review contains spoilers!
Two things stand out from the opening reel of Michael Winner’s The Mechanic, his second collaboration with archetypal 1970s action man Charles Bronson. The first is the fact that it is entirely free of dialogue as we watch Bronson’s mob hit-man Arthur Bishop meticulously prepare for his next job, a routine that involves breaking into the target’s flat to plant the materials he needs to carry out the hit from the other side of the street. It’s a formidable sequence, that illustrates both Bishop’s professionalism and the solitary existence his business demands. The second thing is the god-awful intrusive score that attempts to turn something as mundane as Bronson entering an empty apartment into a moment of high tension, and which continues to intrude for the film’s duration.
Sadly – if unsurprisingly – Winner can’t maintain that standard for the rest of the picture, although the movie does distinguish itself from others of its genre by focusing as much on the nature of the killer and his profession as it does on the actual killings. Bishop takes on a young man (Jan-Michael Vincent) who was the son of one of his previous hits to be his apprentice, but when their first hit together turns messy, his paymasters are less than impressed…
Michael Winner is a director who, more than anybody else, seems to be inordinately impressed by his career. The truth is he was never more than a journeyman who occasionally surpassed himself (as with those first fifteen minutes) but whose output was usually stubbornly routine. The Mechanic is better than most of his movies, but still bears traces of his lack of subtlety or judgement. The moment, for example, when Bishop discovers documents that suggest his protege is taking on an extra-curricular assignment: Winner cuts from one piece of paper to Bronson’s face, another piece of paper to a closer shot of Bronson’s face, yet another piece of paper to a close-up of Bronson’s eyes. It’s the kind of shoddy sequence you’d expect from some hack director of a third-rate spaghetti western, and it’s quite shocking that it comes from the same man who directed that opening sequence.
Bronson gives a typical Bronson performance, his clipped, lilting tones for once matching the emotional detachment of his character. It’s ironic that, commercially, he had just hit his stride but that in terms of material and performance, his best years were behind him. Given the film’s ending, it’s difficult to know whether Jan-Michael Vincent was deliberately trying to make his character dislikeable or whether it was a by-product of his performance, but either way it’s difficult to see what Bronson’s character sees in such a smug youth.
The twist ending, by the way, is no such thing as it’s clearly foreshadowed by the martial arts fight that Bishop and McKenna watch earlier in the movie. In fact, I’d have been more surprised if Bishop hadn’t laid some kind of booby trap at his home just in case his suspicions about McKenna’s loyalty were proved correct.
(Reviewed 22nd March 2012)