Movie Review – The Mechanic (1972)
by NIR SHALEV
Charles Bronson plays Arthur Bishop, a hitman who always makes the assassinations look like accidents, hence the title “mechanic.”
At the film’s start we see Bishop taking photos of his target’s apartment from across the street and then at the comfort of his own home, he studies his target and his apartment and concocts a way of killing the man in a manner that would appear to be an accidental death. Then he proceeds to do so but I will not go into details because it’s rather neat. The sequence lasts a good 15 to 20 minutes and contains no dialogue. Simply, it portrays a quiet man who is extremely methodical and calculating, one that likes to think outside of the box but also really likes to take his time.
Bishop’s buddy is Henry McKenna (Keenan Wynn), a man that may or may not be an assassin as well, but surely is connected to the syndicate that frequently hires Bishop. One day, Bishop is tasked with assassinating Henry and he does so without hesitation. Enter Steve McKenna (Jan-Michael Vincent), Henry’s son. Steve’s a handsome, rich snob that had always survived on his father’s wealth and befriends Bishop because he was a good friend of his dad’s. And before long, they become such good buddies that Bishop explains to Steve what he does for a living and also takes him under his wing as his protege in the killing business.
When Steve asks Bishop whether he ever has regrets or feelings towards those that he kills, he says that he sometimes does but it never, ever shows on his face; that way he’s always able to perform his job to its utmost. But one day, Bishop passes out in public and collapses. He is taken to the hospital and there is told by a doctor that he suffers from serious traumatic stress. He leaves the hospital looking like he’s in top shape and he keeps it a secret from the entire world.
The third act of the film features a great turn in the story and I will not even begin to elaborate on that because it fuels the greatness of the film.
What makes this a terrific film is that it’s first and foremost a thriller, and not an action film. The deep rooted psyche of an assassin is constantly in the spotlight and we know the struggles that Bishop goes through, which begs the questions “Why does Bishop do the work that he does?” and also “Who does Bishop work for?” In fact, the audience doesn’t actually need to know the answers to those questions because this is a sort of “slice of life” film in which we are witnesses to a man’s life, starting somewhere in the middle, and from there it gets interesting. We are also treated to a sort of father/son relationship that develops between the older man and the younger one.
Here is a good, quiet and tense performance by Charles Bronson, and also a good performance by Jan-Michael Vincent, who wasn’t too popular at the time. However, what I like most about this film is that it takes its time developing its characters and the story while following the classic three-act structure. There are plot points that develop, characters that develop, action scenes that develop, and a climax that develops and delivers in accordance with the way that its characters would act. This is a solid thriller that places its story and character development before its action scenes (and there aren’t even that many of those), but also a good way to introduce Charles Bronson to those that need a good “action film kick in the butt.”
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