Synopsis: Thinking she’d put her dangerous past behind her, Lou finds her quiet life interrupted when a desperate mother begs her to save her kidnapped daughter.
Stars: Allison Janney, Jurnee Smollett, Logan Marshall-Green, Ridley Asha Bateman, Matt Craven
Director: Anna Foerster
Running Length: 107 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: Right now, there are some excellent options if you’re looking for movies led by Oscar-winning actresses kicking ass and taking names. In theaters, you can witness Viola Davis charging forward (possibly to another nomination) in The Woman King, inspired by the true story of the Agojie, the all-female warrior unit formed to protect the kingdom of Dahomey in 19th Century West Africa. It’s exciting entertainment that delivers what it promises and creates an atmosphere where packed houses can unite, cheering on Davis and her well-conditioned female army.
An at-home release of The Woman King is still a few weeks off, but until that arrives, you can enjoy 2017’s Best Supporting Actress winner Allison Janney in a new Netflix thriller, alongside Jurnee Smollett. Taking the same unabashedly commercial route as The Woman King (hey, every movie doesn’t have to have its eye on the Oscar prize; at least not at first), Lou is formulaic as all get-out, too long, and packs on the cliches six layers deep. That said, it’s such an engagingly alive piece of cinema that delivers on exactly what it sets out to that it’s hard to fault it for being anything but its authentic self.
A loner living on a small peninsula in the Pacific Northwest during the Reagan ’80s, Lou (Janney, I, Tonya) is about to do something very bad at the film’s start. We’ve already watched her travel into the nearby woods with her faithful dog and dig up a box containing documents and film that she tosses into her fireplace after she returns home. Just as she’s moving to the next stage of her plan, the film jumps back a few hours to introduce us to Hannah (Smollett, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and her young daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman, Shattered) who rent a home on Lou’s property. Behind on the rent to a landlady that doesn’t do extensions, widowed Hannah promises payment soon; they all need to get through an oncoming storm threatening to wash out the area first.
The storm isn’t the only bad news coming to the peninsula tonight. Another harbinger of destruction has arrived and made off with Vee, sending Hannah into a panic and over to Lou’s, hoping to use her phone. Cut off from the authorities but knowing the specter can’t get far with a child in tow, Lou and Hannah set off to get the girl back before she can be taken from the island and lost forever. Using her retained skills as an ex-C.I.A. member, Lou hunts down a hunter (Logan Marshall-Green, Prometheus) that is always one step away from them and ahead of her in anticipating the next movie. Through unforgiving woods and weather, Lou and Hannah work together as an odd couple enacting a rescue operation with only the barest amount of tools at their disposal.
Writers Maggie Cohn & Jack Stanley construct Lou from traditional elements that wouldn’t seem out of place in an old-time Western starring John Wayne. With Janney taking the Wayne role, had Lou been cast as a man, I think it would have been far less interesting and not as necessary a movie to make. Giving Janney this opportunity expands her range even further than we know it to be, allowing her physicality to work in tandem with her acting chops. Director Anna Foerster, a former cinematographer for Roland Emmerich, knows how to stage tension and finds the angles and methods to ratchet up pressure nicely.
A late weeknight watch for me, I had planned to get a few minutes in of Lou before giving myself over to sleep and finishing it the next day. What began as “just ten minutes” turned into twenty, then forty, then seventy, then finishing it all. It grabs you early and keeps you close until crossing the finish line. Sure, the end gets a little far-flung with convenience but with populist entertainment like this, what’s the harm in giving the audience what they need? Keep this one handy for a Friday or Saturday night when you want something you’ll watch all the way through without stopping.