Jennifer Lopez’s most recent films, Marry Me and Shotgun Wedding, haven’t been among the actress’s best work. But Lopez, a bona fide movie star, has proven time and time again that she’s a force to be reckoned with onscreen. The Mother, a gritty action thriller, attempts to put her back in the spotlight, with mostly positive results. While the plot and characterization occasionally falter, Lopez is charismatic, tough and—it has to be said—totally ripped.
THE MOTHER ★★★ (3/4 stars)
The film, directed by Niki Caro and written by Misha Green, Andrea Berloff and Peter Craig, casts Lopez as a brutal ex-military assassin, known only as The Mother. As the movie opens, she’s pregnant with the child of arms dealer Adrian Lovell (Joseph Fiennes), who she first met in Afghanistan. Despite their history, she’s now giving him up to the FBI. But Lovell isn’t one to be trifled with and he appears at the FBI safehouse to brutally stab her in the stomach. The Mother escapes with the help of FBI agent William Cruise (Omari Hardwick), but it’s decided that she can’t safely raise her daughter, who survived the attack.
Years later, The Mother is hiding out in Alaska. She gets an annual update on her daughter Zoe, who’s now 12. This year, however, things have gone amiss. Lovell survived and he’s on the hunt for Zoe to get to her mom. It’s up to The Mother to rescue Zoe after she’s kidnapped and to keep her alive. This plays out in a series of high-octane action sequences where we get to see Lopez do things like interrogate men with barbed wire wrapped around her fist and gut someone with seemingly no emotion. She goes in full force, making the role physical and visceral. It’s cathartic to watch, even if we’re not always sure who this woman is or what drives her beyond keeping Zoe safe.
The movie’s best scenes are between Lopez and Lucy Paez, the relative newcomer who plays Zoe. Zoe just wants to go home, but The Mother insists she learn how to defend herself, teaching her how to shoot a gun and imparting what survival really means (eating rabbit, apparently). These are lessons Zoe doesn’t want to learn, but, of course, they’re necessary for the bloody final showdown between the pair and Lovell. Lovell’s motivation is nebulous, at best. He seems to be exerting a lot of resources and effort on this revenge crusade. But it’s fun to see Fiennes play into the villain and he and Lopez have a compelling dynamic.
The underlying themes—a mother’s love for her child and embracing the parent inside even if it’s an unwanted role—are explored, although not as deeply as they could be. Lopez does her best to hint at The Mother’s vulnerability, repressed though it is, and there is some solid payoff in the relationship between Zoe and The Mother. Lopez couldn’t save Shotgun Wedding, one of the year’s worst films to date, but she’s the driving force here. At one point a character marvels at how good she looks and it’s easy to agree. The actress makes beating up bad men look effortless and inspirational. Give her more of this and less of that other stuff.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.