Saturday, August 29, 2009

Film Review: THE MECHANIC (1972, Michael Winner)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Charles Bronson, Keenan Wynn, Jill Ireland, Jan-Michael Vincent. Written by Lewis John Carlino (writer/director of THE GREAT SANTINI and director of CLASS).
Best one-liner: Bronson: "You always have to be dead sure. Dead sure, or DEAD."

A taut, stylish Bronson potboiler that I would place at the forefront of his oeuvre (along with ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, RIDER ON THE RAIN, and the original DEATH WISH). Known primarily as THE MECHANIC, and sometimes as KILLER OF KILLERS, it could very well be titled DIARY OF A SOCIOPATH.

It's by far Michael Winner's greatest film: here, he reminds me much more of John Boorman or Nic Roeg at their best than, say, the director of WON TON TON- THE DOG WHO SAVED HOLLYWOOD (yeahhh, Winner did that one). It's a detached, melancholy thriller with crisp, artistic cinematography;

Shades of M (1931)?

a wonderful Jerry Fielding score comprised of dissonant piano and strings; and perhaps Bronson's most complex, compelling performance.

The opening sequence (which observes Bronson planning a hit from bureaucratic start to grisly finish) is filmed entirely without dialogue, and, if separated from the film, would surely qualify as one of the greatest shorts of all time. It's not a pretentious film, however: Winner still possesses his old bag of tricks, which includes laughable depictions of hippies (see: THE STONE KILLER),

I think Winner had been reading a lot of cautionary National Review clippings.

people knocked into a swimming pool by a motorcycle, and Bronson indulging in his love for ice cream (see: DEATH WISH 2 and 3).

Damn, he loves it!

Now here's something you don't get to see every day.

In his hits, Bronson employs deceit, genius planning, ruthless cunning, and a lot of sport coat/turtleneck combos.

He's not merely a disconnected killer, however, and we catch glimpses of his fascinating, tortured psyche: an obsession with Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights," stories of an abusive father, a strange dynamic with a bizarre role-playing prostitute (Jill Ireland), and his body's subconscious revulsion at his sociopathic persona.

He plays his cards close to his chest, and to the other characters [like Jan-Michael Vincent (the snotty up-and-comer) and Keenan Wynn (as Jan's gangster dad)] he remains a wax ball-squeezing, squinty, brutal enigma. The end result is something action-packed, unexpected, and extremely satisfying. Five stars.

-Sean Gill


dan said...

This is my absolute favorite Bronson flick and the ending hits like a sucker punch to the nuts.

Sean Gill said...

Yeah, it's certainly in my top two (up with ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST)– the ending is really one of the more fantastic zingers in all of cinema.