Saturday, March 31, 2018

Down and Across: Intriguing Coming of Age Story Is a Fun Read!

Book Review: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi
Version: Library borrow

Do you have "grit"? Saaket "Scott" Ferdowski didn't think he did and he went in search of it one summer break, unbeknownst to his parents while they traveled overseas. So unfolds the intriguing coming of age story in Down and Across.

Scott was a junior in high school and he was supposed to be working on a summer internship his very strict father had set up for him for while they were away. Instead, he quit the internship and left his hometown in Philly for Washington, D.C., to see a psychology professor at Georgetown University who specializes in "grit". It was supposed to be a short trip, just a few days in the big city, long enough to get some help straightening out what Scott saw as a life of failure. It turned into a four-week stint, an adventure he didn't, couldn't, see coming.

This is the unfolding journey of life story in Down and Across, written by first-time novelist Arvin Ahmadi. In it, Scott meets an undisciplined adventuress named Fiora who gets him into all kinds of trouble, a friendly bartender who watches his back, an iron-willed student on a make-it-or-break summer lark of her own, a psychology professor who gives in to help Scott after several attempts to resist his pleas for help, and a host of other strange characters who hang out in his world. Throughout this story written for a teen fiction audience but is also readable and enjoyable for older readers, we can't help but empathize with this youngster lost in the abyss of youth in search of identity. And we can't help but remember our own struggles to figure out who we are, where we are, where we want to go in life and how to get there, and how we rustle up the grit to survive the journey. And if you are a teen fighting through those struggles now, you will surely identify with the challenges and self-doubts and urges Scott faces.

Ahmadi has a wonderful writing style with an easily accessible "voice", creating relatable characters suffering through amazing situations. The title relates to the characters working crossword puzzles, which becomes a metaphor for working through life's challenges, yet its 320 pages are a fun, quick read. Do you have grit? Read Down and Across and find out.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Roman J. Israel, Esq.: Drama, Thriller -- Winner!

Movie Review: Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)
Version: Library borrow

Roman J. Israel, Esq., a driven, idealistic defense attorney, finds himself in a tumultuous series of events that lead to a crisis and the necessity for extreme action.

ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. is a dramatic thriller set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system. Denzel Washington stars as Roman Israel, a driven, idealistic defense attorney who, through a tumultuous series of events, finds himself in a crisis that leads to extreme action. Colin Farrell costars as the monied, cutthroat lawyer who recruits Roman to his firm.

Denzel Washington as Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Colin Farrell as George Pierce
Carmen Ejogo as Maya Alston

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is described in as "a dramatic thriller set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system." I would describe it as a drama heavy on the injustice of the overburdened criminal court system with much less of the thriller. The thriller comes at the very end -- no spoilers here.

Roman Israel is savant in a small but determined civil rights law office serving the under-served victims of the justice system. His partner is a brilliant attorney who brilliantly represents their clients in court, while Israel does all the research and case preparation back in the office. His partner has all the authority of accomplishment while Israel has all the legal smarts. But Israel's partner has a heart attack and dies, and his family decides to liquidate the firm, turning over everything to friend and legal mentee George Pierce. Pierce brings Israel into his own legal firm out of respect for the partner and in deference to Israel, who has no other prospects for employment.

Israel has personality quirks, making him difficult to work with and difficult on his clients. But what we come to find is that he has a brilliant legal mind. And Pierce, who is at first reluctant to keep Israel on the payroll because of mistakes in his handling of cases, comes to appreciate Israel's strategies and perspectives. Remembering the devotion to justice the partner taught him in law school, Pierce has a change in heart, reorganizing his law firm and re-energizing Israel's mission. But just as Israel and Pierce's relationship begins to warm, other things take a turn for the worse.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is played by Denzel Washington, who brings heart and soul to the role. Is there anything he can't play with brilliance? Colin Farrell plays Pierce with intensity. He often plays a bad guy and here he starts off as one yet turns it around into a good guy like the flip of a coin. And for Israel there is an awkward but growing love interest, Maya Alston, played with energy yet earnestness by Carmen Ejogo. It's a fine cast that plays with your emotions and tugs at your heart in a story that could easily just be an angry rant about life in "the underbelly of Los Angeles". This film is really an uplifting story about rising above the underbelly.

Don't look at Roman J. Israel, Esq. as being about urban life; look at it as being about doing your utmost with what you have, about making the most of your talents despite the obstacles built up around you. The tragedy isn't where you live or how you live, but not allowing where and how you live to keep you down. Roman J. Israel, Esp. -- he kept emphasizing the "Esquire" throughout the movie -- rose above it all. We can all relate to that message. See it!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Tom Clancy Power and Empire: Spy, Thriller ... or Horror Story?

Book Review: Tom Clancy Power and Empire by Marc Cameron
Version: Library borrow

I'm not sure how to describe Tom Clancy novels. Spy? Thriller? Whatever they are, I really enjoy them, and Tom Clancy Power and Empire is among them. Different authors have picked up writing the series, and this book is authored by Marc Cameron, who does the series justice.

Each book works with the same basic set of characters. Principal among them are Jack Ryan, the president, and Jack Ryan, Jr., his son. Then there the team members of The Campus and members of Jack Ryan's administration. Thus, there is continuity and familiarity and common themes throughout the series. It's like a continuing series. And that can be fun.

There are Jack Ryan stories and there are Jack Ryan, Jr., stories, by the way, each which focus mostly on that main character, although either may also appear in any story. In this case, Power and Empire focuses on President Jack Ryan.

Here is how describes the book:
A newly belligerent Chinese government leaves US President Jack Ryan with only a few desperate options in this continuation of the #1 New York Times bestselling Tom Clancy series. Jack Ryan is dealing with an aggressive challenge from the Chinese government. Pawns are being moved around a global chessboard: an attack on an oil platform in Africa, a terrorist strike on an American destroyer and a storm tossed American spy ship that may fall into Chinese hands. It seems that President Zhao is determined to limit Ryan's choices in the upcoming G20 negotiations. But there are hints that there's even more going on behind the scene. A routine traffic stop in rural Texas leads to a shocking discovery--a link to a Chinese spy who may have intelligence that lays bare an unexpected revelation. John Clark and the members of the Campus are in close pursuit, but can they get the information in time?

However, this book also delves deeply into a darker corner of the world, perhaps more deeply than hinted in the description above: child slavery and prostitution. This book spends considerable space to Jack Ryan, Jr. and The Campus team hunting down the kingpins of an international child slavery  and prostitution ring, and it gets quite graphic in its details. Character John Clark is obsessive in his pursuit and manic in his drive to take revenge on the culprits. So in this sense, this book is less about spies and national security and more about private posses seeking justice. Thus, is it even thriller or horror story?

I wasn't prepared for the darker part of the story. It was startling. So before you pick up this book, be aware! I'm not saying don't read it -- I'm saying, know what you're getting into. This is the seamy side of life.

Tom Clancy set up a terrific series for other authors to follow in his footsteps. It is well thought out, and every book I have read has followed current news cycles for the details of each new story. So each book is realistic and believable. Tom Clancy Power and Empire is very much so. I enjoyed it. If you can get through the dark, seamy part, as I did, I think you will, too.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Star: A Quality Animated Film for the Whole Family

Movie Review: The Star (2017)
Version: Library borrow

We are well beyond Christmas, but we just watched The Star, which is an animated movie about the birth of Jesus Christ. I'm writing this during Holy Week, just ahead of Easter, so this may still have resonance for some audiences. It's a well-done film for the whole family that makes the birth story easily understandable for all ages, which fun side characters who make the story fun and relatable yet don't get in the way of the actual story. My older daughter who has intellectual disabilities and finds religious topics difficult to comprehend finally understood the Christmas story, thanks to The Star.

Adults may find the side characters -- donkeys, a mountain-climbing sheep, a silly dove, delirious camels, and Roman killer dogs -- silly and distracting. But they do keep the story from being overly simplified and slightly preachy. And kids love silly and distracting animal animated stories, so there's that.

The voice cast is pretty amazing, too. Steven Yeun plays Bo, a donkey who attaches himself to Mary and Joseph as they walk their way to Bethlehem for the Roman census, unaware that a seething Roman with two fearsome dogs is tracking them down. Keegan-Michael Key plays Dave, Bo's best friend, who is obsessed with joining a royal caravan instead and is a distraction from helping Mary and Joseph. Aidy Bryant plays Ruth, a bouncy sheep in search of this amazing star that has suddenly appeared in the sky and who helps Bo pursue Mary and Joseph in the wilderness. They comprise the core of the animal characters. Gina Rodriguez plays Mary and Zachary Levi plays Joseph. Also includes Christopher Plummer, Kelly Clarkson, Anthony Anderson, Patricia Heaton, Kris Kristofferson, Kristin Chenoweth, Mariah Carey, and Oprah Winfrey.

In The Star, Mary has been visited by the angel Gabriel to announce that she will become the mother of the promised Messiah. She finally returns from her months-long visit with her cousin Elizabeth to an anxious Joseph, who is ready to wed her. Then he discovers she is pregnant and begins to rethink his marriage, when he, too, is visited by Gabriel, and accepts his role, although not without trepidation over the responsibility of raising the child who will be the savior of the world. Then along comes the Roman census, requiring Joseph as the head of household to go to Bethlehem to register his family. Bo, meanwhile, is a lowly donkey tied to a mill grinding wheat. He can see through a knot hole in the wall a procession through town of a royal caravan, and his dream is to join the procession. His friend Dave, a wily dove, shares his dream. They escape, only to be chased by Bo's owner, and hide in Joseph's garden. Mary splints Bo's wounded leg and gives him extra tender care, creating a bond and allegiance that will end Bo's and Dave's dream of joining the caravan. And when a Roman thug arrives looking to find and kill Mary and the child in her womb, Bo goes all out to protect the special family he has adopted as his own. It is both a race to Bethlehem and to give safe birth to the Savior, with the help of Bo, Dave, and a few fun characters along the way.

In addition to a good story line, interesting characters, and great voice acting, The Story features top animation. This isn't a cheap production. It's right up there with hit films like Coco, Ferdinand, and the LEGO movies (although those were a different technology). You don't have to worry about your family being bored or weirded out by a cheap rip-off because of the quality -- the quality is there.

I can say without a doubt, The Star is a good film for the family, whether it's for Christmas or for Easter. Or anytime you want to entertain your youngsters with a good story.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Murder on the Orient Express: Not a Must-See or a Want-to-See, Perhaps Just an Okay-See

Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Version: Library borrow

Murder on the Orient Express is a remake of a remake of a remake of a remake of an Agatha Christie murder mystery classic. Yes, there have been five films of this story, beginning in 1974. Enough, already! Honestly, I don't think anyone can play a better Hercule Poirot than David Suchet, but in this version Kenneth Branagh gives it his best shot. It isn't enough. I haven't seen the other versions besides the 1974 film, so I cannot comment on them, but I preferred the 1974 cast other than Albert Finney as Poirot. Alfred Molina played the leading role in 2001 and he's a fine actor, so he could very well have pulled it off to satisfaction.

Here is the gist of the plot. The world's best detective takes the world's most lavish train, the Orient Express, from Istanbul to Paris, counting on a relaxing trip. On the way, there is a murder. Of course, only Poirot can solve it. Since the train has been moving the whole time, everyone onboard is a suspect -- everyone except Poirot. In this version, Poirot is taking the trip because he is exhausted from a strenuous examination of another murder and wishes to take the long journey as a form of holiday, so he isn't receptive to investigating the murder. In fact, earlier the victim has asked him to be his body guard, but Poirot refuses. Partway into the trip as the train makes its way into the mountainous terrain of Yugoslavia, an avalanche blocks the tracks, nearly knocking the locomotive off and setting up a long wait for help to arrive. Poirot is a friend of the owner of the Orient Express, who begs him to investigate before the Yugoslavian authorities arrive. He reluctantly agrees, and so the battle of wits between Poirot and the suspects begins.

As with past films, Murder on the Orient Express relies on a long list of recognizable actors to attract an audience. Kenneth Branagh directs as well as acts in this. Judi Dench is always a welcome presence. There is also Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Penélope Cruz, and Derek Jacobi, along with a group of lesser knows. It is an ensemble cast, which makes the story work. If it weren't for the familiar faces, would we care as much about the characters? I wonder.

Branagh's Belgian accent leaves much to be desired. Poirot is fastidious in all his ways, and Branagh fails to carry out the character in this way, also He could easily be playing some other famous detective, although I couldn't place a name on him. I would ask, might Johnny Depp not have done better service to this role? Something to have considered, Mr Branagh the director. I can see it, considering the eccentricity of some of the roles Depp has played (consider the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland).

So, to conclude, I can't say 2017's Murder on the Orient Express is a must-see, or even a want-to-see. If you're bored some evening or weekend, it's an okay-see. If nothing else, see if for the stars and the scenery.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Shape of Water: A Beautifully Humane Film

Movie Review: The Shape of Water (2017)
Version: Cable purchase

For transparency, let me begin by saying I've never cared for alien-monster movies. But The Shape of Water isn't your typical alien-monster movie. Actually, the "monster" in the film isn't an alien and it isn't really a monster. On the IMDB page, it is listed as "Amphibian Man".

Now let me explain why I was blown away by the humane element of this film. Amphibian Man has been dragged from a rain forest in South America by an American intelligence officer during Cold-War-era America, sometime in early 1960's. He is seen as a threat and treated as a monster, but Amphibian Man is far from one. He is sentient, with more than simply intelligence but also with an emotional core, a soul. He only acts out aggressively in response to abuse, torture really, by the intelligence officer, played venomously and angrily by Michael Shannon. It is rare to see a film treat a non-human being with sympathy, but we find it even more so in The Shape of Water.

Without treating Amphibian Man simply as a threatening monster but as another thinking, feeling, sympathetic character on par with any human, it allows the viewer to focus on the themes on humanity instead of the horror of monstrosity. The real monster, it shows, is the inhumanity of human against humanity, depicted by the way Shannon's character, Strickland, treats the other characters in the film: mute character Elisa, played with precision by Sally Hawkins; African American character Zelda, played with passion by Octavia Spencer; the other cleaning staff, mostly composed of minorities; and the scientist seeking to save Amphibian Man from Strickland's abuses, Dr Hoffstetler, also a Russian asset, played by Michael Stuhlbarg. There is a point during the story in which Strickland ponders creation and whether anyone but his own kind could have been created in the image of God, using it as a crutch to abuse others, anyone who doesn't mirror his white maleness but especially Amphibian Man, showing no pity and no empathy for others.

The theme of The Shape of Water, however, is isolation and loneliness. Elisa, who is a mute, feels lonely and isolated by her inability to speak. She immediately relates to Amphibian Man, who is alone and isolated in the government research facility in which she is a lowly scrub woman, working around barriers to accessing the room where he is locked up to communicate with him and come to know him as a person rather than as a strange being. Strickland uses Amphibian Man's isolation to torture him with plans to disembowel the creature to learn more about his dual ability to breathe in the water and out. Elisa hatches a plan to save Amphibian Man, with the help of Zelda and Elisa's graphics artist friend Giles, with her ultimate plan being to release Amphibian Man when the spring rains come and flood the canals, so he can swim away to safety. But getting to that time and place is fraught with risks and difficulties. Part of the danger involves Soviet spies, who also want to get their hands on Amphibian Man. Another part is the military, who put pressure on Strickland to gut Amphibian Man and end the research project. Still another is Strickland's search for vengeance against Amphibian Man for biting off his fingers in an abuse-baited attack early in the film -- Strickland seethes with hatred. You could also say that Strickland felt isolated and lonely in a world of "others", who aren't like him. And Hoffstetler felt isolated and lonely as a Russian asset. They all encountered Amphibian Man in a different way and their lives changed as a result of their encounters.

You might not relate as well to Strickland's mindset if you didn't live through the Cold War days, but you might be able to understand the personality of a bigot, which Strickland clearly is. Someone  showing disregard for both Zelda and her husband in their own home, weaker (in his eyes) Elisa, and of course, the creature who couldn't possibly be created in the image of Strickland's God and, thus, unworthy of respect or mercy. But perhaps you can relate to many characters' humanity and how it was shaped by the amphibian in the water. It may well be that you will be shaped by it, too.

Why watch The Shape of Water? It's a well-made film with compelling characters and worthy themes. It's more than entertaining, although it is that, too. It's a beautiful film about acceptance and freedom of spirit, and it's about finding commonality in the uncommon among us. The Shape of Water won Best Picture Oscar for a reason. Because it earned it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wonder: A Feel-Good Movie with a Sympathetic Message

Movie Review: Wonder (2017)
Version: Library borrow

Sometimes you just want to see a feel-good movie. Wonder is that film.

Auggie (played to perfection by Jacob Trembley) was born with facial disfigurements that required multiple operations and a "lifetime" of parental love and nurturing to help him through its consequences. But it was finally time for Mom and Dad to cut the strings and send him off to school -- to fifth grade -- where he would learn how to navigate the world of real people and their prejudices. This basically is the story of Wonder and the world of August "Auggie" Pullman, his mother Isabel (played by Julia Roberts), his father Nate (played by Owen Wilson), and his sister Via (played by Izabela Vidovic).

In this heart-warming story, Mom sends Auggie off to school, where he faces discrimination, bullying, and false friendships, despite the support of his family and the school principal. Over time, Auggie's classmates come to learn it's not the face but the heart and the spirit that make for the best friends, and his parents come to realize their decision to mainstream their son was the right decision after all.

This film has all the look and feel of any quality independent, which are at their core character driven. You cannot help but embrace Auggie, feel empathy for Isabel and Nate, and give encouragement for Via caught in the middle. Part of it is because of the greatness of the acting, but another part is the story line with its message of compassion for those who are judged by their looks rather than by the content of their character, not to mention the benefit of giving the misguided a second chance.

So, Wonder is good entertainment, but it is also a good vehicle for guiding our families about how to better interact with others. We are not all what we seem. Most of us aren't. Wonder helps us explore that truth in a sympathetic and empathetic and entertaining way. Great viewing for the whole family.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Blade Runner 2049: As Dark, Dank, and Mystical as the Original

Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Version: Library borrow

Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel to the 1982 scifi hit, Blade Runner, and takes place thirty years later. It is as dark, dank, and mystical as the original, but it is as equally imaginative and amazing to watch.

In today's version, original protagonist Rick Deckard (played once again by Harrison Ford) has gone missing for thirty years. Our new protagonist "K" (played by Ryan Gosling), is an enigmatic LAPD officer and blade runner with no human name gunning for rogue replicants with little apparent regard for life. He does, however, have a soft spot for a holographic heart throb named Joi (played by Ana de Armas), whom he upgrades from apartment mate to case partner in a heart beat. She helps K seek out Deckard, whom K finds is tied into a mysterious case involving an old corpse with indications of a replicant childbirth, which is both unheard of and troublesome for human-replicant relations. He finds himself opposed by a stealthy and dangerous replicant named Luv (played by Sylvia Hoeks), who is also in search of Deckard and the child they both find out still exists. Both think Deckard is the key to finding the child -- Luv for using the child to further research into replicant birthing, and K for killing. Deckard, hiding in deserted Las Vegas, hid the child thirty years ago and has no idea where it is, yet K and Luv battle it out for control of existing clues.

What is intriguing about Blade Runner 2049 is its breadth of vision and attention to detail. The director, set designer, and cinematographer went into great depth to tell this story. The constant fog and drip of water, the great wall protecting the city from the ocean and the powerful ocean waves on its opposing side, the gritty urban facade and the sleazy sexual debauchery of urban decay, the dank loneliness of the countryside. Every imaginative detail is there, lending authenticity to the story. The characters are made powerfully real by great acting performances. Yet true to the original Blade Runner, not much of that universe seems to have changed, visually.

What is mystical is the story line. But then, this is science fiction, a story of a future world in which we aren't totally familiar. The idea of replicants, the people who hunt them down if they get out of line, and a dystopian future existence unrelatable to us naturally makes this all confusing to us. Even though stories of dystopian futures is a popular genre today. That's really what made the original Blade Runner interesting before and now Blade Runner 2049 interesting now. They explore ideas that make us uncomfortable and themes that seem unfathomable yet potentially unavoidable.

Walking out of the theater, or if you're watching it on DVD walking away from the TV screen, and back into reality, you can feel a sense of relief in today's world, even as crazy at it sometimes seems. You can tell yourself, "Thank God this make-believe world is a long time away, and maybe there's still time to avoid it." But then, as of this writing, 2049 is only 31 years in the future. Can we see the Earth getting to this place by then? It is, after all, just science fiction -- right?

Friday, March 09, 2018

The Maze Runner: The Death Cure: Despite Its Discrepancies It's a Great Film

Movie Review: The Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)
Version: Theater purchase

Finally, the third and final chapter of The Maze Runner series, The Death Cure, has illuminated the big screen. As with the earlier films, this movie doesn't track perfectly with the books on which it is based, but The Death Cure seems to go out of its way to tell a different story. That's its greatest weakness. For while Thomas, the main hero, survives the end of the story, the movie forgoes the uplifting ending of the book.

In this telling of the story, Thomas, Newt, and other Glade survivors of W.C.K.D.'s (WICKED's*) efforts to find a cure for the flame mount a rescue mission to save Minho, who was captured at the end of the second installment of the series (The Scorch Trials). Unlike in the book version, here W.C.K.D.'s research facility is in a city in the mountains, surrounded by a rebellious population looking to take down the organization responsible for spreading the infection. Gally, Thomas's foe from the beginning of The Maze Runner series, shows up again, despite being killed off early on to help the team get inside the well guarded city and into the research facility, where they face off against their arch enemy, Janson. Still working closely with Janson, the security arm of W.C.K.D., and Ava Paige, the lead scientist, is Teresa, whom Thomas has been close to romantically but opposed to in the search for freedom. And so, the battle is on to find and save Minho, whom W.C.K.D. has captured to torture for the much needed cure.

*In the book the organization is known as WICKED. In the movie it's been changed to W.C.K.D.

Now, keep in mind, in the book version Minho was just one of the test subjects. It was Thomas who was the hope of mankind for his blood's ability to fight off the infection. So the film reverses this idea, although they kind of bring it up again at the end of the film.

And in the book version, Thomas, Minho, and others visit the city in the mountains but leave it to return to WICKED headquarters along the ocean in the south, where they take their stand against WICKED. When the head of WICKED realizes how wrong it is that they have put the Gladers through so much to find a cure, they release them into a final paradise to live a better life, isolated from the destruction of the infection. In this film, the Gladers escape on their own, but we have no idea what their future will be.

Finally, we have the problem of the film's title. In the book's version, the title makes sense because WICKED wants to torture Thomas until death to find the ultimate cure. In the film's version, there is no reference to death in finding the cure -- in fact, there is no contextual relationship between the story and the title. To me, that is the ultimate sin to this film.

All that said, if you have never read the books you can enjoy this film. It is full of action. The special effects are great. The characters are just as compelling, played to the full by returning actors Dylan O'Brien as Thomas, Ki Hong Lee as Minho, Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt, and Aidan Gillen as the despicable Janson. The scene of Newt dying of the disease is just as haunting to see in the film as it was in reading it in the book, although the circumstances are a bit different. Without knowing the original story, The Death Cure caps the film trilogy well. It's worth seeing.

If you are a fan of the book series, you may have trouble with the freedom the filmmakers took in rewriting what was a wonderful story to suit their own creative needs. The first two films didn't vary as much, so this third film was a shock to me. Still, The Death Cure is a great film every Maze Runner fan should see.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Mechanic: Watch It at Your Own Risk

Movie Review: The Mechanic (2011)
Version: Library borrow

The Mechanic is a cheap-looking version of a modern-day hitman movie. It's not that it isn't a good film in its own right, it's just that we've seen so many good ones that The Mechanic fails to measure up to the better ones. But let's pretend for a moment that we haven't seen any of the good ones yet and measure The Mechanic on its own merits.

Jason Statham, who often plays the bad guy in other movies, is the good guy here. He's Arthur Bishop, an elite hitman who always works to professional perfection and with total detachment; it's nothing personal. It's just a job, but he does the job right. But then he is tricked into assassinating his mentor, Harry (played by Donald Sutherland), and when he discovers he was set up to make the hit, he goes after whoever set him up. So now it is personal. Coming along for the journey is Harry's grown up but impulsive son, Steve (played by Ben Foster), who also wants revenge. Steve doesn't realize at first that the hitman is Arthur, who mentors Steve into the ways of the hitman. Later, Steve  finds a clue that Arthur killed his father and once he helps Arthur go after the bad guys, he tries to enact revenge on Arthur.

Now the problem with this film is that Jason Statham isn't a strong lead for a film. He makes a great bad guy. He makes a great second as a good guy. But he lacks the acting chops to come off as the main character. In this case, he is so detached that you lack sympathy for him when he has to kill his mentor, you lack empathy for him when he tries to help his mentor's son who then turns on him, and you lack satisfaction for him at the end. It all becomes an exercise in rote storytelling. I like Statham for his swagger and his stunt work, but he isn't a list-A actor.

There is plenty of action in this film, so if you're after an action film, this could be a cheap thrill movie for you. Just don't expect to particularly like the hero or feel vindicated by his actions. Watch The Mechanic at your own risk.