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The Mechanic, Another Year
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In the annals of "tough guy" cinema, there's not much to say about the 1972 Charles Bronson vehicle The Mechanic except that its leading character displays a refreshing lack of sentimentality (not unusual in the days of vintage squinters like Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Bronson) and its script manages to end on a neat little "gotcha."

This sleek new model, also called The Mechanic, retains that twist ending but jettisons the steely sensibilities, resulting in yet one more formula flick about a taciturn killer who, despite his penchant for slaying and maiming, actually turns out to be the kind of nice guy you might consider Friending on Facebook.

Jason Statham fills the Bronson role: As Arthur Bishop, he's the best hitman around, although he's not thrilled when his next assignment turns out to be his mentor (Donald Sutherland). Preferring to work alone, he later decides to take on the old man's unruly son (Ben Foster) as his own protégé, teaching him everything he knows about the art of the kill.

The 2011 Mechanic largely follows the plotline of its predecessor, meaning that it's nothing special. Yet it goes the extra kilometer to prove its inferiority to that passable time-killer by cowardly softening its protagonist (the oldest movie profession might be the hooker with a heart of gold but the second oldest is the killer with a mind of conscience) and even copping out at the end.

Yes, the "gotcha" may still be there, but other details have been altered, meaning that audience members have been snookered in more ways than one.



A character in a 70s movie -- Gene Hackman's private eye in Night Moves, if we're pointing fingers -- opined that watching an Eric Rohmer film is like watching paint dry. I imagine similar charges have been lobbed against the oeuvre of British writer-director Mike Leigh, whose idea of an action sequence is generally having his characters sit down on the couch or pour themselves a cuppa.

Yet as he has repeatedly demonstrated in such gems as Life Is Sweet, Secrets & Lies and Topsy-Turvy, Leigh is a master chronicler of the human experience with all its magnificent trappings and imperfections, an intuitive filmmaker whose hands-on approach with his actors (whom he allows to largely improvise) has yielded some dynamic results.

Another Year is a disarmingly straightforward drama about happily married couple Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) and the family members and friends who pass through their lives over the course of four seasons. Chief among these acquaintances is Mary (Lesley Manville), a middle-aged woman whose loneliness causes her to drink too much, complain too loudly and go too far when she starts to view Tom and Gerri's young son Joe (Oliver Maltman) as a viable partner.

Other visitors include Joe's vivacious new girlfriend Katie (Karina Fernandez), whose mere presence devastates Mary, and the strikingly unfit Ken (Peter Wight), whose ability to eat, drink and smoke all at the same time is as fascinating to behold as it is frightening to contemplate. To state that the film has no real plot is to miss the point completely: The characters are the plot, weaving enough personal detail through the narrative to provide us with plenty of back story, present circumstance and even future incident.

Never cynical about the bitter truths it packs, this all-embracing endeavor also has the distinction of featuring at its center a husband and wife who are comfortably, irrefutably in love -- a point worth noting in this era in which family dysfunction is all the rage on screen.