“…the wicked are snared in the work of their
Such is the power of film that audiences can be persuaded to root for ruthless killers as if they were de serving heroes. I remember as a child cheering when police cars chasing a gang leader (don’t recall whether he was played by Humphry Bogard, James Cagney, or Humphry Bogart) crashed and careened off the road, their occupants obviously being killed (It never occurred to my excitable mind that the occupants were noyt just cops, but sons and husbands, fathers and brothers who, unlike their quarry, were contributors to society who would be mourned and missed.). This is the case in this remake of an old Charles Bronson film, Jason Statham playing Arthur Bishop the mechanic (hitman) for a shadowy corporation headed by the suave Dean (Tony Goldwyn). Our support for the killer is aided by the fact that all of the victims that we see him dispatch are evil—the head of a South American drug cartel; a huge brute of a killer; and a crooked tele-evangelist. (In this respec, at least, the film is a notch above the similar film The Takers—when one of the main supporting characters in that film is shot and killed by the bad guys/heroes, the audience laughed approvingly!)
That the Mechanic has a conscience we see when he is sent to kill the man who has been his fatherly mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland). Dean assures Bishop that Harry has sold them out and thus must be punished. In a scene like that involving Tom Hanks and Paul Newman in Road to Perdition, Harry, realizing Bishop’s intention, tells him that he is glad that it is he who was sent to kill him. Using Harry’s own fancy pistol that is engraved (in Latin on one side, English on the other) with the motto “Victory loves Preparation” , Bishop shoots his friend and then makes it appear as if the killing was by a carjacker.
Unable to walk away from this hit with no regrets, Bishop soon violates his work alone code by taking on Harry’s estranged alcoholic son Steve (Ben Foster) as an apprentice. Ironically, Bishop earlier had urged Harry to get in touch with the prodigal. Steve is filled with the desire for vengeance. The two become close, though Bishop’s secret that he was the killer serves as a barrier preventing intimacy. The gun that Bishop has kept will figure in to what results later on, in more ways than one.
Set in New Orleans, the film is filled with blood and bruising fights, so even if the violence was morally unobjectional, this would not be a film for most church groups. Were it based on a Graham Greene tale, we might expect some act revealing the radical grace of God in the protagonist’s unholy life, but there is none such in this dark tale—although the audience was obviously pleased by the twist in the plot at the conclusion. A life might have been saved, but the state of the survivor’s soul remains unresolved. Indeed, I wonder if the filmmaker even thought such a question was relevent.
1. How do you think filmmakers get us to root formorally corrupt characters? What are other such films (such as Takers)?
2. How does the motto on Harry’s gun work out in the plot?
3. What do you think is the implied fate of the survivor? What do you think that authors of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes would write about him?