Rating: MA 15+
Release Date: March 24
The Mechanic is a remake with all of the punch of the 1972 original but none of its heart.
English action figure Jason Statham (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, The Transporter, The Italian Job) plays Arthur Bishop, a professional hitman who is beginning to think about the limitations of his profession. In a brief moment of humanity he takes on the son of one of his ‘contracts’ as an apprentice, not letting him know of course that his new benefactor is also responsible for his father’s death. When Bishop becomes a target himself, he has to rely on the one person in the world who has every reason to wish him dead.
Frankly, I make this sound better than it is. The Mechanic is one of those bizarre hybrids Hollywood occasionally achieves: full of explosions and violent struggles, it still manages to drag its way through its relatively brief 93 minutes on the screen. I’ll admit my strong reaction probably has a lot to do with a soft spot for the 70’s original. Charles Bronson stood in Statham’s shoes, doing a much better job of portraying an aging hitman who has become disillusioned with his craft. There is real pathos in his performance as he tries to convince his protégé that being the best at something that’s ultimately destructive is not much of an achievement.
The latest version of The Mechanic doesn’t stimulate the mind anywhere near as much. For a person who makes his living out of bringing other people’s lives to an end, Bishop thinks remarkably little about death. The one time he’s asked to offer an opinion about the topic, he simply says “… there is no peace in death” – there is nothing at all. Which is terribly convenient considering what he does for a living. If you do bad things but there’s no-one waiting to hold you to account then you might as well load up the shotgun and get going, right? It’s a philosophy as shallow as the script and it undermines the vague sense of justice at the end of the film. Take my advice: save the price of admission and spend it on a DVD of the original film. JB Hi Fi has it on special for around $9.
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In A Better World
Release Date: March 31
In A Better World is worthy of the Oscar it received this year for Best Foreign Language Film. It raises the reality of death for a world that is all too consumed with living to think that life is a finite resource. But the solution it suggests for this universal problem will barely work for its characters, let alone you and I.
In A Better World revolves around two boys living in Denmark, both going through extremely stressful family situations. The first, Elias, is the son of a foreign aid doctor called Anton who spends long periods away from home working in war-torn Africa. Anton and Elias’ mother Marianne are involved in a painful separation brought on by the doctor’s infidelity. And Elias has the additional misfortunes of being a Swede with buck teeth, a natural target for Danish bullies. That is until Christian arrives at his school and violently puts an end to their taunting. Christian is a boy with issues of his own – his mother has recently died of cancer, leaving him angry and withdrawn from his father. Together the two ten year olds form a friendship that brings them some measure of comfort, but also steers them towards a deadly series of pranks.
Many people stay clear of foreign language films because of a justifiable fear that subtitles will make it too hard to follow the on-screen drama. To begin with, at least half of In A Better World is in English and, more importantly, the plot is so well paced that it’s easy to lose yourself in the characters’ lives. This is ultimately a film about justice or, more to the point, the lack of it in a world where painful disease and powerful enemies can injure the innocent with impunity. Death is clearly seen as the obscenity it is, rather than the ‘natural’ end to life Hollywood sometimes portrays. But confronted with the truth, the film suggests that the best thing to do is to avert your eyes. Anton, a doctor familiar with death and injustice, tells Christian,
“Sometimes it’s like there’s a veil between you and death. Then when someone dies that veil gets pulled away. And you see death clearly for an instant. But the veils moves back, and things get better again.”
It’s sad that in the end the film’s most reasonable character can think of nothing better to say to a grieving boy than ‘you’ll get over it eventually’. Anton himself is a living testimony that our involvement in some of those injustices can make them impossible to forget. But that’s not a reason to avoid In A Better World. Rather, when the hollowness of this solution presents itself, the Christian is in a good position to talk about the one who defeated death and promises that every injustice will be brought to light.