Synopsis: While fleeing from dangerous assailants, an assassin comes out of hiding to protect her daughter she left earlier in life.
Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Joseph Fiennes, Omari Hardwick, Paul Raci, Lucy Paez, Gael García Bernal
Director: Niki Caro
Running Length: 111 minutes
TMMM Score: (8.5/10)
Review: Like picking your favorite holiday or ABBA song, we all have our favorite ways to J.Lo at the Movies, right? Some want their Jennifer Lopez experience to be a straight rom-com, and they’ll go right to the bona fide classics: The Wedding Planner, Maid in Manhattan, Marry Me. Then some like a more serious Lopez and will pull Out of Sight, Parker, Hustlers, or Bordertown down from the shelf. Lopez defenders will be waving around Angel Eyes, U Turn, and The Cell begging you to watch them (and you should). As for me, please and thank you, give me the J.Lo that knows a pulpy audience-pleasing hit when she sees it: Anaconda, The Boy Next Door, and Enough.
Honestly, I’ve been waiting for Lopez to give us a movie in the same vein as Enough for years now, one that would show off her talent for serious drama while also delivering a blistering bit of action to juice the joints. It took over twenty years (wow…), but she found the right team for the right project, and The Mother, streaming on Netflix and in select theaters, is blazingly good work from nearly all involved. It’s unabashedly made for the most commercially minded viewer but makes good on every promised expectation and then some.
At an FBI Safe House, a woman (Lopez, Second Act) is being interviewed by agents about her involvement with two nefarious arms dealers she had been romantically linked to. Pregnant, afraid for her safety, and knowing the government agency won’t be able to protect her for long, she’s there not so much for shelter but to see how close her exes are to finding her. As it turns out, closer than she ever thought. A frightening attack on the house and an up-close run-in with Adrian (Joseph Fiennes, Hercules) prove that she will always be hunted for her involvement, even after she gives birth to her daughter.
Coerced into giving the girl up for adoption and vanishing for both of their protection, Mother (we never know her real name) retreats to a small town in Alaska where her only connection to the outside world is a local shop owner (Sound of Metal’s Oscar-nominee Paul Raci) and the FBI Agent (Omari Hardwick, Army of the Dead) she’s asked to keep her posted if her daughter is ever in any danger. For twelve years, there has been silence. Only messages with pictures give her an idea of how her daughter is faring with her foster parents. The silence is broken when Hector (Gael García Bernal, Werewolf by Night) locates her daughter, forcing Mother out of hiding to shield the child she never knew from an onslaught of violence coming their way.
The slick screenplay by Misha Green, Andrea Berloff, and Peter Craig feels like it has a higher edge of sophistication to it (both Berloff and Craig have Oscar nominations within the last decade), and perhaps that’s why The Mother, in general, comes across like an above average action thriller. Had it starred someone without the screen presence of Lopez, it might have been a simple streaming title easy to pass over, but anytime you add the multi-hyphenate artist to the mix, you can expect something special to come from it. It’s good to see Lopez try this haunted persona on and find it fits so well. There’s a raw chill to her, and it’s unwavering, even when confronted by Zoe (Lucy Paez), who is desperate to know more about the mother that left her when she was days old.
Lopez is far and away the best performance in The Mother, but it’s a strong production overall. While the script winds up casting her as a series of child cliches by the end, until that time, Paez is working on giving us a complicated kid that seeks answers and is seriously affected by not getting them. It’s an approach I don’t feel like we’ve seen before, and I liked watching it develop. Without giving too much away, something happens early on that makes Fiennes feel like more of a Bond villain than a ruthless assassin, but he is appropriately menacing when called upon. Hardwick and Raci offer strong support as the men in Mother’s life, helping her get through each day.
The action sequences staged by director Niki Caro are often uniquely thrilling, demonstrating that Caro is a filmmaker with a rich visual language and is comfortable working in multiple genres. More women need to be directing action films like this because if they are half as good as the films Caro and others like Karyn Kusama (The Invitation) and Gina Prince-Brythwood (The Woman King) are making, viewers are in for an upheaval in the same tired old boys club in the action thriller genre.
It’s almost impossible not to watch these streaming titles and wish you were viewing them in a theater. As good as many theatrical features I’ve seen lately, The Mother is a strong Netflix title that could have been a good litmus test for them if they want to try a wide-release strategy for their titles before debuting them on their service. Standing in uncertainty at the cliff of Summer 2023 with blockbusters on the horizon that may or may not pan out, it’s at least calming to know that The Mother has arrived and delivered.