There’s a certain suspension of disbelief required for all cinema, an acceptance that what we’re seeing on screen is “reality” rather than a bunch of actors, lighting specialists, sound techs, set builders, cinematographers and a director all collaborating to tell a compelling story. With some genres of film, there’s a second level of belief required, one where the viewer has to also accept the basic premise of the film.
That’s where The Mechanic fails miserably, presenting Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) as a crack assassin who can kill his targets without leaving a trace, or even – as we learn later – to implicate third parties in the crime. Impressive. Except as we watch Bishop blunder his way through target after target, he’s clearly amateurish, leaving fingerprints and clues at every crime scene, never having a backup plan if something goes wrong and relying on luck to escape afterwards.
There’s an predictable father/son relationship between Bishop and his “handler” Harry (Donald Sutherland) which is reinforced by Harry complaining to Bishop about his ne’er-do-well son Steve (Ben Foster). In one particularly odd scene, Bishop offers parenting advice to Harry, even though he prides himself on being disconnected from his own emotions. Through an obvious plot machination, Bishop ends up an unwilling mentor to Steve, a dangerous thug with no sense of elegance or finesse.
Ultimately, the glue that makes The Mechanic stick together is action film cliches. From the opening scene where we see a drug lord getting off his private jet in Columbia, it’s hoary action cliches that fuel the story. Problem is, it’s ultimately boring and even Statham’s usually entertaining fight sequences are muted and incomprehensibly filmed, leaving us to pay too much attention to the weak plot. This just isn’t a good film.
What happens when the consequences of an amazing invention are so dire that it could destroy entire economies? In a thoughtful and typically Ealing Studios wry manner, that’s just what the brilliant classic 1951 film The Man in the White Suit explores.
Billed as a comedy — and certainly it has many amusing scenes — the film has many more serious overtones, coming as it did only five years after the detonation of two atomic bombs marked the end of World War II.
The film stars Alec Guinness as Sidney Stratton, a bit of a loose-cannon chemist who has been fired from textile mill after textile mill for his mad-chemist experiments. What he seeks is to create a new fabric that never wears out and has an electrostatic charge that means it cannot get dirty. Oh, and it’s luminescent and glows in the dark.
Sounds brilliant, but when he succeeds at inventing this miracle fabric, it becomes clear that he hasn’t really thought through any of the consequences of this invention, though everyone else involved, from union organizer Bertha (Vida Hope) to senior industry sage Sir John Kierlaw (Ernest Thesiger) to textile mill owner Alan Birnley (the splendid Cecil Parker) all quickly realize that it’d be the end of their industry — and possibly the entire British economy — if the product does come to market.
It’s curiously similar to a conversation I had a few days ago with a friend about whether inventors should consider the consequences of an invention before they reveal it to the public, and is a profound question that’s at the heart of this brilliant, stylish comedy The Man in the White Suit.
Imagine you’re second in line for the throne of England, right behind your selfish, womanizing brother, your father the King is in ill health, and you have a terrible stutter that you just can’t control. Your father despises you for the impediment, your siblings tease you about it, your country is poised to enter World War II and that older brother desires to marry an American divorcee. Except the King of England can’t marry a divorced woman, meaning you’re next in line for the throne.
The King’s Speech is a powerful and beautifully produced film about the challenge that the Duke of York faced when he was pushed into the public eye, with the role acted perfectly by Colin Firth. The film opens with the Duke addressing the public, painfully stumbling through his written speech, one stutter and pause after another, a scene that’s surprisingly affecting, with us feeling the overwhelming anxiety of the moment and frustration of the call of duty to the nation and the honor of family.
Fortunately for history, his faithful wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) finds the unorthodox Australian Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and convinces her husband to work with him to try and cure the stutter. Masquerading as “Mr. Johnson” for his visits to Logue’s run-down Harley Street office, Firth perfectly portrays the conflict between the desire to get better, the anger and frustration at having the affliction and the embarrassment of having a disability.
Truly great films manage to instantly transport us to a world where there’s complete suspension of disbelief, where we wonder if we’re seeing actual historical footage rather than actors on sets with lighting, caterers and extras just off-camera. The King’s Speech is a splendid film that is well deserving of the awards and accolades it’s received, even as the speech therapy itself is rather blithely addressed. It’s one of my favorite films of 2010.