THE MECHANIC (1972)
Rating: 3 out of 4 /Buy the DVD Here
Tagline: He has more than a dozen ways to kill... and they all work!
Directed by Michael Winner
Starring: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn, and Jill Ireland
THE PLAN: A badass hitman by the name of Arthur Bishop is looking to pass on his knowledge to the right student. One comes along in the form of cool, callous Steve McKenna, whom Arthur feels has just the right amount of ice water in his veins to take the gig. They make a good team at first, but how long does this student want to play second-fiddle?
THE KILL: If there's ever been a man who portrayed the unhappy murderer better than Charles Bronson, I've never seen him. This guy may crack wise once in a while after blowing somebody away, but unlike other actors who have portrayed reluctant killers (Clint, Stallone, Arnold - among others - have all tried their hand), Bronson often really does seem to be living in a sad, lonely state of mind when he's pushed to mow down others. This guy hardly ever smiles, and when he does, it feels as if it's at gunpoint.
Who better, then, to play Arthur Bishop, the laconic mob hitman who lives in one of the most amazing houses I've ever seen in a film, and finds no joy in it, or much else. Bishop is in many ways the perfect assassin. He's precise, he's cautious, he's emotionless, and most importantly, he has no friends or family to speak of. His morals are never questioned because he has no one to talk to, other than the mysterious bosses who feed him targets. Bishop takes great pains to make sure every job goes right, and furthermore, to make sure it doesn't look like a hit. None of the deaths are ultimately questioned, because they appear to have stemmed from natural causes, or at the very least, freak accidents. Bishop can do this job in his sleep - only problem is, his loneliness has finally taken its toll. He at long last discovers that he needs someone to keep him company, someone to pass on his legacy to...
The Mechanic trailer
That's where Steve comes in, played by a handsome, casual fellow named Jan-Michael Vincent. In recent years, Vincent has fallen on hard times, but back then you see the star quality that made him one of the hot young actors of the day (think Brad Pitt). Steve happens to be the son of one of Bishop's now-dead associates, and in him Arthur sees a kindred spirit: a cold-hearted, intelligent sociopath with no ties and no conscience. (Doesn't hurt that Arthur witnesses Steve's complete nonchalance in watching a girl attempt suicide.) But when the student feels he no longer needs a teacher, things get, shall we say, uncomfortable.
Uhh... It's not what it looks like...
THE MECHANIC is one of Bronson's first efforts with director Michael Winner, whom he would work with five more times (most notably on the first three DEATH WISH films). For at least the first half, the film is a fairly easy-going affair - essentially a character study of these two deadly colleagues. Wondering if they admire, fear, or resent each other (or all of the above) is initially the THE MECHANIC's main pleasure. Of course, in between the battle of - well, if not wits, then attitudes - the men must perform a few jobs, and THE MECHANIC eventually becomes action-heavy thriller, with Bishop and Steve alternately chasing down and running away from faceless gunmen. A motorcycle chase that runs through a fancy party, into a field, is killer. So are later scenes in Italy, where the two cohorts have to blow up a boat, and escape assassins before a final showdown with each other. It's all fast and loose and set to a driving (but not retro-funky) score.
Here's a Tip: Look STRAIGHT AHEAD while driving...
Winner's direction is surprisingly restrained, considering the genre and the fact that this is 1972, and many directors were falling in love with bizarre gimmicks and hectic cutting. Sure he allows himself a quick ZOOM every once in a while, but that never hurt nobody. (Poor English intentional.) He and Bronson are a good team; Winner lets Bronson do what Bronson does, which is glower, speak softly, carry a big gun, and impart wisdom to folks less street-smart than he is. Vincent is a perfect foil because he's Bronson's opposite in many ways: Cocky, but not humble; smart, but not wise; slick, but not badass. The kid's got to learn that being that cool is something you're born with, not something you acquire. Bronson knows this. And from the looks of it, it's a heavy burden...
TOP DEATH: See above: A dude on a motorcycle takes a short trip off a big cliff. He explodes on impact, the way they all do...
TOP ACTION: While in Italy, Bishop and Steve get chased by mob guys along a very scenic mountain road. Bronson takes charge with help from a bulldozer and a machine-gun.
FEMALE EXPLOITATION: Bishop's got himself a honey of a hooker who role plays with him.
HOMOEROTIC MOMENT: You could certainly read into the relationship between these two as having some undercurrents. Although both of them have women in their lives, they'd much rather enjoy each other's company. Hmm...
TOP DIALOGUE: Bishop: Murder is only killing without a license. Everybody kills.
DRINKING GAME: Drink every time there's a close-up of Bronson's face, looking contemplative or hesitant.
TRIVIA: An alternate title is KILLER OF KILLERS.
The hooker Bishop visits is played by Bronson's then-wife Jill Ireland.