Read interview with Ben Foster
The Mechanic is a 2011 American action thriller film starring Jason Statham as the title character. It is directed by Simon West, is a remake of the 1972 film of the same name that starred Charles Bronson. Statham stars as Arthur Bishop, a professional assassin who specializes in making his hits look like accidents, suicides, or the acts of petty criminals
Seasoned hitman Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) sets out to avenge the brutal murder of his mentor, Harry (Donald Sutherland), and finds himself joined by Harry's vengeful son (Ben Foster), who is eager to follow in his late father's footsteps, in this remake of the 1972 action thriller starring Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent. Harry taught Arthur how to be a detached killer who always hits his mark. Now Harry is gone, and for the first time in Arthur's career it's about to get personal. As lone-wolf assassin Arthur prepares to hunt down Harry's killers, he is approached by his fallen mentor's vengeful son, Steve, who is eager to take up the lethal tools of his father's trade. Unadept at working with a partner yet compelled to help Steve carry on the family tradition, Arthur agrees to take him on as a protégé. Later, the duo begins to methodically eliminate their targets, forging a partnership born of blood with each new hit. The closer Arthur and Steve get to the name at the top of their list, however, the more apparent it becomes that his job will be anything but business as usual.
For director Simon West, it was a dream. For his film's insurers, it was probably closer to a nightmare.
Either way, there he was on the morning he was to shoot the biggest stunt in his New Orleans-filmed action remake "The Mechanic," and his film's stars, Jason Statham and Ben Foster, were harnessing up and preparing to throw themselves off the 33-story World Trade Center at the foot of Canal Street.
"I knew Jason would do it," West said, calling recently to chat about the movie, which was shot all over town in fall 2009 and which opens Friday (Jan. 28). "He's up for anything and he loves stunts, and he's got no fear of heights. I never thought Ben would do it."
As good an actor as Foster is -- his stunningly intense performances in movies including "3:10 to Yuma" and "The Messenger" have helped him become one of Hollywood's hottest young stars -- he also suffers from vertigo, West said. As a result, a stuntman was preparing to take the plunge with Statham.
"(But) on the morning we were going to do it, I was having breakfast with Ben and he said, 'Oh, Jason is going to do the big jump today, isn't he? ... I suppose I should do it as well then.' I said, 'What?' And he did it, which makes the whole thing so much better because I can have a camera flying down with him and you can see the real fear in his eyes.
"He did a major thing to overcome that, to do that stunt, but it just makes it so much more real. I don't have to fake it with stuntmen or green screen or things like that."
Foster and Statham would end up rappelling down the side of the building -- the climax of a scene in which their characters are fleeing the site of an assassination attempt -- four times. (See video.) By doing their own stunts, Statham and Foster would help imbue the film with what West saw as one of its most important elements: a sense of gritty, gripping realism.
Director Michael Winner set a similar tone in his moody 1972 original, which starred Charles Bronson as the detail-oriented hitman with a guilty conscience, and Jan-Michael Vincent as the scrappy young apprentice he takes under his wing. Both movies are dark, brooding action films, and both are steeped in atmosphere.
But West didn't simply want to repeat what Winner had done, especially since the original "Mechanic" is viewed by many as a classic. To find differences he said he used the original script as a starting point, as opposed to the rewritten script from which the Bronson movie was made. It turns out that the script would also help him dodge the countless genre clichés that have cropped up in the 39 years between the films.
"We had a unique selling feature, which is that all of his hits had to look like accidents," West said. "We're used to seeing difficult hits of people from a mile away with a high-powered rifle -- but he can't do that. He has to get up there right next to them and be with them and kill them in a way that looks like an accident so there's no investigation afterward. That's much more tricky and complicated, and he's going to have to be much more sophisticated and clever.
"That's what attracted me (to the project). I love the sort of Rubik's Cube puzzle of 'How would you do this?' 'How would you hijack the plane or get to someone you seemingly can't get to and get out without being discovered?'
Also, for this go-round -- in addition to basic modernization of certain plot elements -- the whole thing was re-set in New Orleans. The city's uniqueness gave West some extra visual flavor to play with, as compared to Winner's Los Angeles-shot original. But it also presented a whole new set of clichés to avoid if he wanted to hang onto that sense of realism.
After all, he had been to New Orleans only once before -- to shoot one of those famous "Budweiser frogs" commercials, in the swamps south of the city -- and so it took an effort to avoid the familiar traps that beset many directors just discovering the depth of the city's culture.
"I didn't want to do a postcard version of New Orleans, so we sort of deliberately played down the French Quarter aspects of it," he said. "(I wanted to) be very nonchalant about it, not have the close-ups of the beads and the hanging moss and the horse and carriage outside the squares and things like that."
That's when he slapped on a pair of headphones and suddenly found the tone he wanted to set in his film. "One of my editors (T.G. Herrington) is from New Orleans, and he gave me a huge library of music from local bands, and for months before filming I was listening to this music and getting into it," West said. "I picked two or three tracks that were a trigger for me of what the movie was going to be."
It also helped when it came time to build the film's soundtrack, which also steers clear of the standards that always seem to accompany New Orleans-shot films. Instead, audiences get Chris Thomas King, Galactic and the like.
"You go to New Orleans, and you can't help but soak up the atmosphere," West said. "What I like with movies is to have a sense of place. I hate movies where you're not sure where they're shot because they're so generic. And that definitely infused into the film, and I got sort of a gritty atmospheric vibe from where I was shooting it."
Born in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, director Simon West began his career in 1981 when he became a film editor with the BBC in London. During a four year tenure at the BBC, West was involved with a number of award-winning productions including the documentary series Strangeways Prison and the drama series Bleak House both of which won awards from the prestigious British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
West's career took off in 1985 when he began freelancing as a director and he was awarded a grant from the Arts Council of Great Britain to write and direct the film entitled Dolly Mixtures. He was subsequently signed to Limelight London to direct music videos and commercials. In 1987 he won Best Video at the Montreux Music Festival for Mel and Kim's Respectable. He also directed the video for Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" in the same year.
With a flourishing commercial career, West relocated to Los Angeles offices of Limelight in 1991. Moving to Pilot pictures in 1992, he received a Clio Award for Little Caesar's Airplane and a Golden Lion Award for Little Caesar's "Italian Feast."
West joined Propaganda Films in 1993 with a roster of credits including McDonalds, Sprite, AT&T, Ford, Miller Beer and Budweiser. His most famous commercial was a spot for Pepsi where a little boy sucks himself into a Pepsi bottle. The ad ran during the Super Bowl and was USA Today's highest rated commercial for that year.
In 1997, he directed the international blockbuster Con Air for Jerry Bruckheimer starring Nicolas Cage and John Malkovich and followed that up in 1999 with The General's Daughter starring John Travolta. In 2001, he directed Lara Croft : Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie 2001.
West originated the project "Black Hawk Down" after reading Mark Bowden's newspaper articles about the failed US mission in Somalia. West pitched the idea to his old collaborator Jerry Bruckheimer and spent 2 years developing the script with the writer Ken Nolan. Due to scheduling conflicts with West's other film "Lara Croft Tomb Raider" and a threatened SAG strike he was not able to direct the movie but served as an executive producer on the Oscar nominated Black Hawk Down.
In 2003, he was credited as an executive producer for the critically acclaimed Fox show, Keen Eddie, also serving as director for the pilot and second episode. In 2005, he directed the pilot for the Jerry Bruckheimer produced CBS show Close to Home. In 2006, he directed the Screen Gems thriller, When a Stranger Calls.
In 2009, Mark Valley has been tapped as the lead in Fox's drama pilot "Human Target" from director Simon West. "Target," from WBTV, DC Comics and McG's Wonderland Sound and Vision, is based on the DC Comics title and centers on Christopher Chance (Valley), a mysterious security freelancer who assumes the identities of those in danger, becoming the "human target" for his clients.
In 2011, he directed the action-thriller The Mechanic, starring Jason Statham and Ben Foster, a remake of the 1972 film of the same name.
West is developing the movie titled Protection staring Dwayne Johnson. It is slated for a 2012 release. It's scheduled to shoot this fall in New Mexico. The screenplay is by Brandon Noonan. Produced by Stuart Ford and Robert Lawrence, along with Gordon Gray and Marc Ciardi of Mayhem Pictures. Brian Kavanaugh Jones will executive produce and Jib Polhemus will act as co-producer.
West will also direct Nicolas Cage in the upcoming film Medallion.
THE ART OF REMAKES