The Mother is a mutha of an intimately scaled action film, a violent female-centric drama about a hardened combat veteran who has great difficulty adapting to being anything other than a tough soldier, and that includes being a mother. Joining Kathryn Bigelow, Patty Jenkins, Gina Prince-Blythewood, Mimi Leder and the Wachowski siblings among women responsible for notable action features, Aussie director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, Mulan) has delivered a film that could easily have veered into sentiment at any moment but instead remains tough as nails and doesn’t go soft at the end. The film would surely have an even greater impact on the big screen but, as it is, launched Friday on Netflix.
Perhaps no star as survived more ups and downs in her career than has Jennifer Lopez, and while her performance here mostly calls on her to be lacking anything akin to sentiment, she powers through the film like the proverbial bat out of hell, or at least like John Wayne in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon when he said, “Never apologize, mister, it’s a sign of weakness.”
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Lopez is a killer of a mother, and no doubt a mother killer along the way; she admits — or perhaps boasts — that she knocked off 46 people while on duty in the Middle East, and is not someone to ever back down and do any less than kick her opponent’s ass. That said, she is understandably obsessed with her daughter Zoe, but ultimately unduly so as far as the FBI is concerned; when the agency tells her that the only way to protect her child is to disappear, she obediently agrees, disowns the child, and takes off for Alaska.
But you can bet that The Mother is not just going to just give up and live with the polar bears for the rest of her life. Sure enough, the baddies kidnap the daughter (Lucy Paez), now 12 years old, from a school playground, after which the next stop is, of all places, Havana, a location that is doubled extremely well by an urban area of the Canary Islands.
If all this makes the film sound like a travelogue of far-flung locations, the film avoids such a fate due to the shrewd ability of Caro and her colleagues to keep things on a threatening low boil at nearly all times. There is a grim seriousness to the proceedings that is nicely balanced by the sustained emotional turbulence that these tensely controlled characters invariably carry with them.
The Mother is under constraints of one kind or another most of the time, but you know she won’t remain so for too long. As it enters its final laps, The Mother ultimately becomes the female bonding film it’s been threatening to become nearly from the beginning, and it’s a hard-earned goal in almost every respect. The story is something close to a fairy tale transformed into a contemporary hard-action melodrama with a very long arc. But fanciful as it all is, the toughness of the characters and the film’s grave but propulsive energy keeps the proceedings almost always intriguing and one’s expectations in a constant state of curiosity as to where this might all end up.
Lopez is a coiled wire that sets the tone for this tautly and tightly wound tale. Nothing that’s achieved by the characters here is easy and sometimes requires indefinite amounts of patience and fortitude. Lopez and Caro seem very much in sync as they relate the sprawling tale in a disciplined manner that maintains interest and curiosity, if not high levels of downright excitement. The filmmakers avoid cheap thrills and gratuitous violence that, in other hands, might have made this story possibly more popular with viewers. But Caro holds the reins tight and has keenly told a peculiar story that will likely stick in the mind.
Title: The Mother
Release date: May 12, 2023
Director: Niki Caro
Screenwriters: Misha Green and Andrea Berloff and Peter Craig
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Joseph Fiennes, Lucy Paez, Omari Hardwick, Paul Raci, Gael Garcia Bernal
Running time: 1 hr 55 min
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