At the Movies: The Mechanic, White Material

We’re just four weeks into the new year and we’ve already got our first hit-man movie. 2011 may be a banner year.

The Mechanic

Jason Statham can usually be counted on to deliver a solid, if not spectacular, action movie. “The Mechanic” fits that pattern.

Statham plays Arthur Bishop, an assassin who specializes in making his hits look like they weren’t assassinations. When he’s given an assignment to murder his old friend and mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland), Arthur is conflicted.

Arthur’s boss Dean (Tony Goldwyn) tells Arthur that Harry betrayed the company and so he has to go. If Arthur won’t do the job someone else will. So Arthur takes Harry down and makes it look like a carjacking.

Feeling guilty, Arthur takes Harry’s troubled son Steve (Ben Foster) under his wing and begins to teach him the fine art of assassination. He leaves out the fact that he whacked his dad. Steve doesn’t take orders well but he is a quick study.

“The Mechanic” has twists and turns but you can see them coming a mile away. It’s a pretty formula hit-man film and it takes a while to shift into overdrive. It’s not as action-packed as such Statham staples as “The Transporter” or “Crank,” but when it finally does go into action-mode, it delivers.

Did it work for me? “The Mechanic” isn’t a great hit-man movie but Statham and Foster are fun to watch and it does have its moments. It’s a dead zone for action movies these days, so if you’re in the mood for one this will do.

White Material

The Depressing Season continues with “White Material,” a powerful but plodding tragedy set on an African coffee plantation.

Isabelle Huppert stars as Maria Vial, owner of a coffee plantation in an African country being torn apart by civil war. Everyone is telling Maria it’s time to get outta Dodge. Her workers are fleeing, a shop owner in town tells her to go, a helicopter flies overhead and the soldier inside yells at her to leave, her ex-husband (Christopher Lambert) wants to sell the plantation and leave.

But Maria refuses to budge. Just one more week, she pleads, that’s all she needs to get the crop in. Things aren’t as bad as they say on the radio, she says. Things have always been rough, but all will be well.

I didn’t see any signs, but Maria clearly lives in Denial Acres.

Further complicating Maria’s life — her slacker son (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who goes crazy after being attacked by two young boys; and a rebel leader called The Boxer (Isaach De Bankole), who’s hiding out in her barn.

Despite the impending sense of doom, “White Material” moves at a lethargic pace. Huppert gives a strong performance but it’s hard to feel sorry for someone who so stubbornly refuses to see the writing on the wall.

Did it work for me? Like most films of the Depressing Season, “White Material” is well-made and a strong piece of work but it’s so bleak — who’d want to sit through it?

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