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The second of six collaborations between director Michael Winner and Charles Bronson, The Mechanic is a tough, slow-burn 1970s thriller often remembered for its dialogue-free opening 15 minutes. Bronson is contract killer Arthur Bishop, who is very good at killing people and getting away with it. Bishop's efficient calm is interrupted by Steve McKenna (Jan-Michael Vincent), the entitled, playboy son of Bishop's superior. McKenna wants desperately to operate like Bishop, but spends more time hosting house parties than learning from Bishop. Bronson is terrific in this role; his face selling the tremendous patience and pain required to kill people for money. The pacing is more deliberate than Simon West's not-terrible 2011 remake, and Winner's film at times feels longer than its 100 minutes. The story is straightforward, but The Mechanic coasts on Bronson's indisputable cool.
In the silent, extended opening, Bishop meticulously tracks and targets an unnamed individual for death. This lifestyle has completely overwhelmed Bishop, who crumbles outside of work, struggling with nervous habits and unrequited love. Bishop gets the word to take out one of his superiors, "Big Harry" McKenna (Keenan Wynn), which he does - ruthlessly. At the funeral, Bishop meets an unsuspecting Steve, who shows interest in learning the ropes. Something about Steve's calculating cool appeals to Bishop, who begins an uneasy mentorship with the young man. The remainder of Bishop's superiors are not pleased, and place the hitman on a dangerous probation within the organization.
Steve's insertion into Bishop's operation is immediately messy, resulting in a sloppy hit and the ensuing motorcycle chase that is both exciting and out-of-place within the restrained confines of Winner's film. Both men inevitably conduct background research on one another; something the audience knows from the get-go will result in a clash of the titans before the credits roll. There is rolling suspense throughout The Mechanic. First, the sick anticipation of Bishop's initial kill; then the promise of discovery during the botched hit; and finally the cat-and-mouse dance of death between Bishop and his apprentice.
Like Bishop, The Mechanic saves its words unless necessary. Bronson does not have a whole lot of dialogue here, and instead commands the screen through expression and gesture. Steve is talky and cruel, as in the scene where he watches with amusement as his girlfriend slits her wrists in a last-ditch effort to secure his affections. Both actors are perfectly suited for these roles, and Winner's grimy, noir-inspired shooting style complements the story. The pacing is somewhat uneven, as is the back-and-forth between tense, slow burn drama and rapid-fire action, some of which is not particularly memorable. Despite a few weak parts, the sum of The Mechanic is inherently impressive.
The 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is often very impressive, displaying strong fine-object detail in close-ups and solid depth in wide shots. Softness is occasionally an issue, particularly in brightly lit, outdoor scenes, which are less apparently HD than interior shots. Skin tones are reasonably accurate and color saturation is acceptable. Black crush can be a problem, though some of this can be attributed to the film stock used. There is quite a bit of natural grain, and I noticed no issues with noise reduction or artificial sharpening. The print is reasonably clean, with only minor defects.
The DTS-HD Master Audio mix is solid, providing fairly impressive element separation. The track never feels thin or tinny, and dialogue is free of distortion. The effects are reasonably deep and layered appropriately with dialogue and score. English SDH subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Twilight Time releases The Mechanic on Blu-ray as part of its "Limited Edition Series," and only 3,000 copies were produced. A multi-page booklet with essay and photos is tucked inside the standard Blu-ray case. Extras include an Isolated Score track, presented in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, along with a Commentary by Cinematographer Richard H. Kline. This commentary is moderated by Twilight Time's Nick Redman, and is a somewhat disjointed affair. The disc also includes the film's Original Theatrical Trailer (2:28/HD) and an MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06/HD).
Charles Bronson is an ice-cold killer in The Mechanic, about a hitman who gains an inexperienced, reckless apprentice. This second collaboration between Bronson and director Michael Winner is suspenseful and grim, a good representation of '70s noir thrillers. Twilight Time's Blu-ray is technically solid but light on extras. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.