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Two Versions of The Mechanic: Charles Bronson or Jason Stratham?


With the recent release of the remake of Charles Bronson’s quintessential role, pre-Death Wish, the inevitable comparison of the two movies must be considered.

Jason Stratham plays Charles Bronson this time, and Ben Foster tries to be the young acolyte played by Jan Michael Vincent in the original.

The names are the same, but they should have changed them to protect the guilty. 

Mr. Bishop is an elegant loner who is a highly efficient and cultured man who happens to be not your local car mechanic, but high-style hitman for a mysterious mob.

McKenna is a big shot in the mob that happens to be a contact and friend of Mr. Arthur Bishop. In the original Keenan Wynn, marvelous character actor, played the criminal gone to seed, and in the recent remake Donald Sutherland takes on the role. The character is dispatched quickly enough. 

The plot hinges on McKenna’s troubled son.  Jan-Michael Vincent seemed at the time barely 18 and impish when he was not devilish. Ben Foster, grizzled and aging, seems hardly a problem delinquent. When Bishop takes him on as his ward, it seems more peculiar than when Batman took on Robin.

The original Lewis John Carlino script was softened, yes, really, by Bronson who demanded the sexual ties to his acolyte be dimmed, but the effect became kinkier as the twosome exchanged secretive looks.

In this version, Jason Stratham’s Arthur Bishop seems like an older brother who needs fraternal companionship, but sends his acolyte off to assassinate a rival who happens to be a pedophile who falls for Foster’s aging imp. It almost weirdly turns the hitman fraternity into something like the Village People out of a disco bar.

Which film is superior? Well, the original is the original, and Bronson made it fascinating, playing off his typecast roles, showing Bishop to be undone by the fatal flaw of his final romantic nature and his mistrust of love. Strands of Schubert give the new film a higher tone now and then, and the latent love between the Bishop and McKenna seems as unlikely as their smooth killings.

For a crack team the two killers tend toward massacre and impalings, far less elegant that the Bronson/Vincent duo. The earlier film has an ending with virtue and its injustice together.

If you enjoy your action movie with a little sucker punch, then you will find pleasure in either version of The Mechanic. Both films take you for a ride, but one mugs you in the back seat. The other lets you see Naples and die.


If you enjoy Hollywood film history, you should read William Russo's books, RIDING JAMES KIRKWOOD'S PONY and AUDIE MURPHY: VIETNAM & THE MAKING OF THE QUIET AMERICAN. You can find them on, either as a print book or e-book.


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