Sunday, 3 July 2011

Charles Bronson is the Mechanic (1972)

The Mechanic was released in 1972 and was an American action thriller film directed by Michael Winner. The film starred starred Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent.

The film is noted for its opening. There is no dialogue for the first 16 minutes of the film, as the hit man played by Bronson prepares to kill his current target.
Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) is a "mechanic" — a hit man who performs his jobs cleanly, without leaving a trace of his work. He works exclusively for an international secret organization, which has very strict rules: even those members who are becoming slightly unreliable are assassinated, long before they jeopardize their organization. It is noted that Bishop is very sophisticated, as he regularly listens to classical music, he has a remarkable art collection in his house, and he is a connoisseur of fine wines. He is evidently very wealthy, as demonstrated by his lifestyle and his exceptional house, thanks to his successful career as a hit man. But due to the dangerous nature of his profession, Bishop is forced to live in isolation, he cannot show emotions or trust people. Bishop is under constant emotional pressure, he takes medication for depression, and one day he is temporarily hospitalized when he loses consciousness as a result of the stress. In an effort to compensate for his isolation, Bishop even pays a prostitute (Jill Ireland) to write emotional and sophisticated love letters to him because he cannot risk making friends.
When Bishop is assigned by his organization to kill one of the heads, "Big Harry" McKenna (Keenan Wynn), he does so with his usual sense of efficiency, imagination and detachment, shooting at Big Harry, while making Harry think that the shots are being fired by a hidden sniper who is trying to kill them both. Harry, who Bishop knows has a weak heart, is forced to run up a steep incline to escape the shots, which brings on a heart attack. Bishop then finishes Harry off by smothering him with his gloved hand, thus making it appear that the cause of death was the heart attack. At Big Harry's funeral, Bishop meets Harry's narcissistic but also ruthless and ambitious son Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent). Steve is intrigued by Bishop and seeks to find out more about him. Bishop is also intrigued, as he realizes that Steve has a personality that makes him capable of becoming a hit man, and plays along. Finally he makes Steve his apprentice, demonstrating his "tools of the trade", such as piloting, shooting, lipreading, and powerfully developed fingers.

As part of this training program, Bishop teaches Steve that "every person has a weakness, and that once this weakness is found, the target is easy to kill." But Bishop fails to get his superiors' consent for the arrangement. Following a messy contract assassination mission conducted by Bishop and Steve, the organization Bishop works with warns him that his irresponsible choice to involve Steve was without permission, and that such selfish behavior cannot be tolerated "because the organization relies on 'democratic principles' that put the survival of the group above personal ambitions". The Organization then gives Bishop an urgent assassination mission, this time in Italy. Once again, Bishop involves Steve in the new assassination plan, but just before they leave the United States, Bishop accidentally notices that among the belongings of Steve, is a file containing a lot of information about him. This file is very similar to the files Bishop used to prepare about his victims he was told to assassinate. Bishop realizes that his apprentice Steve is turning against him, but he pretends to ignore this, and he starts his own investigation about Steve's background, preparing his own file about Steve without telling him. Nevertheless, Bishop allows Steve go to Italy with him to conduct the assassination assigned by the organization.

In Italy, Bishop and Steve approach a boat where their intended victim is located, but it becomes apparent that this was a trap prepared by the organization and that they are the real target. Bishop and Steve are ambushed by the assassins of the organization, but after violent events they manage to kill all their opponents, leaving no witnesses, and they return to the hotel in Naples, preparing their suitcases to go back to the United States.

His apprenticeship apparently complete, Steve shares a celebratory bottle of wine with Bishop, having coated the latter's glass with brucine, a colorless and deadly alkaloid. When Bishop realizes that he has been poisoned and that he is becoming paralyzed, he asks Steve if it was because Bishop had killed Steve's father. Steve responds that he had not realized his father was murdered, instead believing that he had simply died of the heart attack. Steve is full of himself, and taunts Bishop, saying "you told me that everyone has a jelly spot--yours was that you couldn't cut it alone." Steve goes on to reveal that he wasn't acting on orders to kill Bishop, stating that he is going to continue picking his own targets, with the suggestion that killing Bishop was an something akin to an artistic choice on Steve's part that establishes him (at least in his own mind) as superior and a more refined killer even than Bishop, who needed the "license" provided by the secret organization he worked for.
Contemptuously leaving Bishop to die of what will appear to be a heart attack, Steve returns to the US to take over Bishop's life and career, arriving at Bishop's home via taxicab to pick up the red Mustang he had left parked at Bishop's house before the overseas trip. After admiring Bishop's home and taking a souvenir, Steve goes out to the Mustang and gets in to leave. He finds a note affixed to the rear-view mirror. It is from Bishop, and reveals that he had anticipated that Steve might use the trip to Italy as an opportunity to kill Bishop. The note reads, "Steve, if you're reading this it means I didn't make it back. It also means you've broken a filament controlling a 13-second delay trigger. End of game. Bang! You're dead." As Steve frantically reaches for the door handle, the car explodes in a seething fireball as the credits roll and the film draws to a close.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times described The Mechanic as a "solemn, rather spurious action melodrama". Noting the "father son rivalry" between Arthur and Steve and picking up on the "latent homosexual bond" between the two, Canby concluded that the film was "non-stop, mostly irrelevant physical spectacle" and pondered what a different director might have done with the same material. Roger Ebert praised Bronson's performance, noting that he appears to be truly listening to Vincent rather than simply waiting for him to stop for Bronson's next line. While finding the plot twists "neat", Ebert found that director Winner failed to squarely address the relationship between the leads in favor of too many boring action sequences. Judith Crist dismissed the film as "a banal expedition into slaughter and sadism and stupid dialogue". Any hint of authenticity, she wrote, was obliterated by Winner's "bang-bang-bang approach"

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