It has been a hot minute since Jennifer Lopez took up her firearms for a proper action flick. No, installment. When the safe house is, of course, raided by revenge-hungry assailants, the movie sets itself up for a grand and perilous journey, with plenty of no-holds-barred violence to right out the gate.
The men after the Mother are goons, sent by Hector Alvarez (Gael García Bernal) to clear the house for his partner in cutthroat crime, Adrian Lovell (Joseph Fiennes). Hector and Adrian are the ones who brought the Mother into the fold, back when she was the most skilled sniper in her military unit, and their operation will cease if the Mother successfully gives them up. And although they may not succeed in their first mission to off their (then-pregnant) defector, the two remain determined to exact their retaliation over the next 12 years.
But the Mother has planned for this. She has stipulated that her daughter’s inevitable endangerment would result in an alert from agent William Cruise (Omari Hardwick), whom the Mother saved in a seemingly random act of kindness at the safehouse a decade earlier. When Zoe is abducted, the Mother is ready. Despite her best attempts to thwart the kidnapping with all of her long-range shooting expertise—so as to never alert Zoe to her real mother’s presence—she fails to protect her child. Too bad for Hector and Adrian that the Mother would happily lay down her life to make sure Zoe goes free.
What follows is a thrilling, global hodgepodge of maternal fury. Lopez brims with intensity and star power in equal measure, lighting up the screen with an impressive set of well-honed combat choreography in the film’s first act. I often found myself agape at The Mother’s rapid pacing, which could’ve easily tripped over its own velocity as soon as the film slows a bit in its middle. It’s not easy to successfully go from pushing nuns into the street during a chase scene, to deliciously exciting kill scenes, to a pulsating reconnaissance-and-recovery mission that eventually leads to a much more leisurely second act. But terrific pacing is one of The Mother’s best features. Without it, its excessive script would be much harder to overlook.
Director Niki Caro moves The Mother along with a steady stride, and effectively keeps its lengthy central portion from becoming an impediment. It’s here where the film takes its time, crafting a connection between mother and daughter—though it’s one that doesn’t always ring with the truth it needs to properly raise the movie’s stakes. Zoe and the Mother have a unique relationship, simply by way of their shared history together, which Zoe had never been privy to. But the script never quite lets reality seep into their fugitive status. Zoe and the Mother function like characters, not with any semblance of real people. They work together in service of helping the film to its finish line, instead of attaining the authenticity that viewers will crave.
Through it all, Caro’s competent direction is enough to hold focus, even when the narrative starts to dip. Remarkable crane shots across Canadian mountains, and through snowmobile-strewn fields of flurries, are positively enchanting to watch, often reviving The Mother’s vacillating sense of dread. Some perfect (and unexpected) soundtrack choices work in that favor as well. I never knew I needed to see Jennifer Lopez teach her daughter how to shoot a sniper rifle, set to a Grimes song. But you know what they say, The Mother knows best. Well, sometimes.
Liked this review? Sign up to get our weekly See Skip newsletter every Tuesday and find out what new shows and movies are worth watching, and which aren’t.