The Men's Action Bailout Movie

The Mechanic (2011) Simon West. Kip's Bay multiplex, 2nd Ave & 31st (free passes).
Unknown (2011) Jaume Collet-Serra. Loew's 68th Street (free passes).

The Mechanic requires the viewer to conjure a theory out of left field in order to justify having spent 2 hours watching it. See The Mechanic as the average weekend moviegoer's metaphor for the circumstances which plunged America into the mortgage crisis.

As an object lesson in how America failed up to the Bailout, The Mechanic succeeds. "The Mechanic" (Jason Statham) is a hit-man who lives in the Louisiana bayou, a setting that evokes government failure, exploitation of the poor, and capitalist scheming.

He is paid to kill people, hired out by a mysterious organization of hedge-fundy yuppies, as if Timothy Geithner secretly headed Xe Services LLC, formerly Blackwater.

The Mechanic is good at his job, and his liaison in the organization is McKenna, played by Donald Suthlerland.  McKenna is a mentor, and pretty much The Mechanic's only friend.  But soon the lad-mag boss of the organization advises The Mechanic that McKenna has betrayed them, killed his own men, and made off with a bunch of money. The Mechanic  is given the contract to kill McKenna, and he takes it, murdering his father-figure at the behest of prep school rejects.

In this instance, the behavior of The Mechanic mimics the minions of the banking industry, which was quick to sell out all good faith in low and middle income home-owners who suffered by subprime mortgages.  The Mechanic prides himself on his stoic work ethic, but his quasi-patricide of Donald Sutherland reveals that he is just a blind and greedy cog in a larger, ugly wheel.  AIG portrayed a similar immature vacuum of principles.

Turns out that McKenna has a wayward son, Steve (Ben Foster), who fancies himself a badass and wants The Mechanic to teach him the tricks of the hit-man trade.  The kid doesn't know The Mechanic killed his dad, believing it was a random carjacker.  The Mechanic takes Steve under his dank wing out of guilt, and though the kid is out to avenge his father's murder, The Mechanic persistently instructs his protege that revenge is wrong.

The most vicious and coldblooded of the new pair's assignments is the execution of an obese New Age evangelist, whose crimes against humanity add up to an intravenous drug addiction and sexual interest in young women of legal age.  Not a hint that he stoops to the odious demagoguery of a Glenn Beck, or even Dr. Phil.  He is just a valueless wastoid, and is dispatched by The Mechanic and the kid in a brutal, near-botched asphyxiation.

In this episode, The Mechanic carries out a Tea-Baggy vigilante moralism, by slaying the lazy preacher who posed no mortal threat to society as would have a Balkan coke lord or psycho pimp, or such character gladly executed in good stock action movies.  Jason Statham is criminally mis-engineered as The Mechanic, given no opportunity for the sort of set-piece fight scenes in which the Englishman excels with charm and ass-kicking.  Instead, he is a jaded identity who prevails in sadism, and the audience must be that, too, if they like him.

Minorities and alternative lifestyles are victimized in The Mechanic's scheme.  The innocent black boatkeeper is offed, and young Steve's inaugural hit is a rival assassin, a gargantuan gay who the kid incredulously murders with his bare hands.   

Soon it is revealed that The Mechanic was set up by the yupsters. They concocted the story about Donald Sutherland's doublecross in order to cover up their own transgressions (naturally The Shine Box saw this twist coming light years beforehand ahem).  Only when The Mechanic is the last to notice he has been screwed over by his employers does he begin to heed his conscience, and do what he taught the kid not to.  He seeks revenge.

The world of The Mechanic is a world of varying degrees of evil. It was normal for The Mechanic to be a contract killer, as it was for a time to profit off toxic loans - but when The Mechanic finds himself a victim too, then it is suddenly not OK.  His avenging  is akin to the finance industry turning to Uncle Sam for rescue, when all along the government was the very agent the industry most revoked while they sent the economy down the crapper. Ultimately, the kid discovers that The Mechanic whacked his dad, and the audience is given no reason not to take sides with the kid's vengeance against The Mechanic's vengeance.  But The Mechanic is shown to slyly evade assassination while the kid gets blown up.

It must be, that studio executives believe they are creating a new paradigm of protagonist - an anti-hero with whom the audience is not asked to empathize and side with, but is coerced to, as if waterboarded. The new Liam Neeson actioner, Unknown, depicts a likewise scenario.  Neeson plays a man who forgets his identity, and who must gain it back while dodging assassins.  Turns out his old identity was of the icy type exhibited by those very assassins, and he is a better man to have forgotten it.  The denouement of recognition, remorse, atonement or exoneration is skipped.  You know how it is, when you wake up and you are actually a secret assassin and January Jones is not really your wife but out to sabotage the genetically modified corn industry?  At the movie's end, it remains unknown why the audience still sits there, besides the thankful presence of the veteran actor Bruno Ganz as a washed-up former East German spymaster.  

The Mechanic and Unknown present characters who mercilessly follow a higher order (like religious people or real estate agents), and who then suddenly "see" through it, awakened to its deception, and are then motivated to do battle against it as if some kind of crusader, when really they are throwing adolescent tantrums against what they have already chosen as if they had not.  The moment of illumination is one of neoconservative braggadocio, and has no room for the sticky dramatics of supplication or humility.  The same might be said when they adapt George W. Bush's memoir to the silver screen for an early February release date. 

The Mechanic is a narratological figure of the selfishness, greed and ignorance which caused the country to  economically collapse.  Joe-Duke Godard himself could not have produced a more self-aware and veritable exemplum.

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