Movie Review – Mother, The (2023)

Principal Cast : Jennifer Lopez, Omari Hardwick, Joseph Fiennes, Lucy Paez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Paul Raci, Jesse Garcia, Yvonne Senat Jones, Edie Falco.
Synopsis: While fleeing from dangerous assailants, an assassin comes out of hiding to protect the daughter she had left earlier in life.


Middling action films seen to be tout á fait previsible when it comes to Netflix, who have spent inordinate amounts of money giving us quickly-forgotten drudge masquerading as “event streaming” viewing. Everything from the star-powered Red Notice, the high-octane 6 Underground, the disastrously expensive The Grey Man, 2017’s unfortunate Will Smith creature feature Bright, athe Ben Affleck-led Triple Frontier to name but a few – very few of their big budget outlay sees any significant return on investment discernible by the viewing public. I’d suggest that all of the aforementioned turkeys had the discourse longevity of a gnat’s lifespan, before being consigned to the virtual wasteland of the platform’s darkest un-advertised corners. Sadly, Jennifer Lopez’ acti0n-thriller vehicle The Mother, in which she plays a renegade US military operative, is another in Netflix’s long, long line of trainwreck “original movies”, a glacially paced, exhaustingly boring trope-ridden dogpile of a movie, that will linger in the mind only as long as it take you to click over to Disney+ and rewatch Infinity War for the hundredth time.

Lopez plays the unnamed “Mother”, a former elite solder recruited by ex-SAS marine Adrian Lovell (Joseph Fiennes) and arms dealer Hector Alvarez (Gael Garcia Bernal) for a deal that goes south quickly. Pregnant, Mother gives birth to a daughter, who is quickly ripped from her parentage by the CIA and given a new life elsewhere, while Mother is forced to go into hiding deep in the Alaskan wilderness to escape the pursuit of those she has betrayed. Unfortunately, her link to the young girl, Zoe (Lucy Paez) is discovered by both Lovell and Alvarez, who will stop at nothing in drawing Mother out to certain death – with FBI Agent Will Cruise (Omari Hardwick) aiding her, Mother initially takes the fight to them, before circumstances force her to flee, leading those who hunt her to track her every move north.

Directed by live-action Mulan filmmaker Niki Caro, The Mother purports to humanise Lopez’ character’s emotional constipation with a tepid, dour mother-daughter estrangement scenario, and in doing so botches things completely. Written by Misha Green, Andrea Berloff and Peter Craig, the film’s maternal subtext should have been the glue holding this peacemeal effort together, but in ineffectively cohesing the familial with the thriller/espionage aspects, it all unravels unevenly and, in a fatal mistake, turns Lopez’ character in one that’s ultimately thoroughly unlikeable. The plot is a minor gathering of subgenre tropes, poorly cobbled together and laced with violence befitting a modern actioner of this ilk, and Caro’s handling of the action sequences – when they occur – is borderline incoherent, and certainly never engaging. Lopez, who co-produced with a litany of others, cannot seem to summon the ability to make us care about this unnamed character, a woman forced into a heinous situation (through her own poor judgement, as it turns out) and thanklessly cast aside by the American government. This should have been an easy-peasy home-run, a knockout blow for somebody of Lopez’ venerated position of film stars, but the dank, expressionless manner in which the character is written, and Caro’s equally dour direction, make this stagnant whisper-killer entry nothing more than a sleeper.

With Lopez doing her best gritted-teeth performance, an all-too-brief appearance by Gael Garcia Bernal as Hector, and a vastly over the top turn by Joseph Fiennes, as the sadistic Lovell, the film turns to co-stars Lucy Paez, as Zoe, and Omari Hardwick, as Cruise, to salvage any semblance of remotely human emotion within this pancake screenplay. Paez isn’t offered enough relationship bonding with Lopez to warrant much of a mention, although she seems to be more than a capable actress, while Hardwick’s casual sexuality towards Lopez and their incredible tension together is criminally underutilised – hell, it’s never once mentioned, and it should have been. Paul Raci pops up as the irascible Jons, a friend of the Mother who runs a local store up in the Alaskan wilderness, and you get the sense the paternal affection he has for the mother and daughter could have been better developed to make this film even better.

Unfortunately, despite some decent production value at her back, Niki Caro badly fumbles the ball here. This film’s promise is quite good, and from the opening sequence there’s some stakes here that feel fully worked out and competently managed. Unfortunately, due to a plot that has to skip over a lot of time before any character arcs are resolved, momentum screeches to a dead stop, and the writing, direction and performances start to take on an increasingly incoherent nature. Plot contrivances abound, with people seeming to travel the length of the United States in the time it takes to read this sentence – a little like the final season of Game of Thrones, if I’m honest – and no matter how hard it tries it makes finding people living in a technology-free shack on the edge of a giant North American glacial wilderness unexpectedly easy. The Mother tries for a Taken level of realistic violence and euphoric comeuppance, but fails utterly to deliver. Instead, it’s a boring, inert piece of filmmaking nonsense, lacking impact and scouring away much of Lopez’ appreciation built in to films like the recent Shotgun Wedding.

The Mother is a dud. A complete waste of everyone’s time – yours, mine, theirs. It’s as if somebody had a great idea for a story and it was pushed into production before it was properly thought through. Lopez tries for grimdark emotional gravitas but just looks like she’s got stomach cramps the whole time, while her co-stars all vacillate between competent and valiant, and outright lunacy. Skip this, there’s better films out there and you’d be better off watching those than this.


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