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Baltimore fave Ben Foster teams with Jason Statham

Will Ben Foster attain mainstream action-hero status without losing his credibility as a risk-taking young actor? We'll know soon when he costars as an apprentice hit-man to that agile performer Jason Statham in a remake of the Charles Bronson vehicle "The Mechanic."

Foster entered movies as a subtly cutting high school senior in Barry Levinson's "Liberty Heights." In what I think was Levinson's best Baltimore period piece after "Diner," Foster played Ben Kurtzman, who declared war on a swimming club that posted a sign banning "Jews, Dogs, and Coloreds," but also outraged his parents when he dressed up as Hitler for Halloween and attended a James Brown concert on the black side of town. Foster captured comical '50s wise-guy attitudes and also expressed extraordinary sensitivity and sweetness when he developed a flirtatious pal-ship with an African-American schoolmate (Rebekah Johnson).

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Last year David Edelstein of New York magazine was not alone when he called the actor's performance in "The Messenger," a somber drama about an Iraq War veteran who becomes part of a "casualty notification" team, "a breakthrough... for Foster, whose face is tight but whose emotions bleed through."

Actually, I thought Foster broke through a few  years ago, in "3:10 to Yuma." As outlaw Charlie Prince, he slices through the Old West like a vicious whiplash. Foster gives an amazing performance, because he manages to be surprising within a character who could have been unendurably vile. Foster turns every aspect of a classic Western performance, from the draw of a gun to a swig of whiskey, into a virtuoso turn. He's incredibly fast and accurate without ever coming off as "natural": He delights in the artifice as well as the reality of his tough-enforcer pose. In one dazzling offhand scene, he snatches a coat and hat off a sleeping drunk and tells a whopper to a group of Arizona lawmen. He conveys all the disdain a top outlaw feels for anyone living a square life.

Have you been tracking Foster since "Liberty Heights?"  Did you see his splashy roles in "Hostage" and "Alpha Dog?" How do you think he'll pair up with Statham, an action virtuoso who has developed his own sly style? And what do you think of remaking a Bronson hit today? Was Bronson an action hero for a different time?

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