Jennifer Lopez is back in her action bag with The Mother from Netflix. Directed by Niki Caro from a screenplay by Misha Green, Andrea Berloff and Peter Craig, The Mother follows the titular character (Lopez) who becomes an FBI informant. The Mother is a lean, mean actioner, but one that could have benefited from better editing and a tighter script. That’s not to say that the film is terrible or unbearable by any means, it’s just that it is a straightforward narrative that does not require a nearly two-hour run time to tell it right.
Lopez’s sniper-turned-informant, aka The Mother, targets are arms broker Adrian Lovell (Joseph Fiennes) and arms dealer Hector Álvarez (Gael García Bernal). The men aren’t just high-level targets for the FBI, they also pose considerable risk to The Mother as she is pregnant, and one of them is presumably the father. After a botched assassination attempt on her, she is forced into a terrible choice, and The Mother flees to protect her daughter. Years later, she is forced out of hiding when Lovell and Álvarez discover the girl and seek revenge on The Mother for burning down their operation.
The film’s screenplay is simple, losing much of the fat that would typically be left for dramatic effect in other films, such as a long-winded backstory filled with lust and betrayal and an earnest romantic interlude amid a rescue mission. The mother-daughter component is relatively sturdy, making up most of the feature. Lopez and Lucy Paez handle themselves well when they get into the nitty-gritty of their characters’ dynamic. The familial drama isn’t overwrought or overstuffed, though the second act does drag a bit too long as the distance between mother and daughter shrinks. The third act brings the film to a slightly anti-climactic, predictable end, but its familiarity and simplicity allows The Mother to shine.
Caro’s directing is slick and to the point, but it’s hindered by choppy editing and some poor staging. This is less of a Caro issue, however, and more of a Hollywood one, as the movie cannot just settle into the action scenes. Tension can’t be built off quick cuts and cutaways for different angles. John Wick and Atomic Blonde proved great emotion, drama, and, most importantly, anticipation comes from just allowing the action to play out one or two beats longer than usual. Quick cuts can be explained as a means of covering up mistakes, stunt doubles, and the choreographed nature of the scene, and sometimes it works to get the energy up. In The Mother, the editing just lessens the impact of the titular heroine’s daughter being kidnapped. Luckily, Lopez is in fine form as an action lead here, with Omari Hardwick providing her with backup in some of the earlier and crucial action sequences designed to showcase The Mother’s particular set of skills.
Caro finds the quiet moments when it is just Lopez having to piecemeal her character’s complicated emotions, or the chunk of time in the second act where The Mother must unload her baggage. The movie manages to let these moments ring the loudest, though these scenes just exacerbate the issue of how hectic the editing is in the action sequences. There is hardly any monologuing or exasperating debates about The Mother’s sacrifices and her daughter’s discontent with her situation. Every bit of dialogue is just enough, edging just close enough to the edge of too much before pulling back in time. Regardless of the ineffectiveness of the action sequences, the film unfolds with confidence.
The key to the confidence of this movie is Jennifer Lopez. She is committed to her work. The Mother is hurt and jaded. Her accomplishments are evident in her stance, short responses, and clear-eyed conviction. There isn’t much to the script, but Lopez is able to fully embody the role and effectively project the character’s emotional arc. The story pulls from a strangely long history of women-led action films consisting of the heroine’s journey boiling down to her ability as a parent; however, this story works for Lopez. The actress can play tough and stern just fine, but she possesses an inherent warmth that lends to the maternal instinct her character tries to deny.
All in all, The Mother is a good time. It doesn’t always hit the mark, but it gets close. Caro doesn’t break new ground, but what’s gained is a better insight into how well the director works with emotionally-driven stories. Honing the skills to become a great action director takes time and patience, but The Mother indicates she is on the right path. The film adequately showcases that Lopez can challenge herself in the action sphere. If she so chooses, she may find herself paired with the right creative team that can help her navigate an action film that doesn’t pull punches.
The Mother is now streaming on Netflix. The film is 117 minutes long and rated R.
This story originally appeared on Screenrant