Though the quality of her last several direct-to-streaming films has not been consistent, Jennifer Lopez has starred in a number of films that are fun to watch. The Mother, now streaming on Netflix, is a departure from the rest. Overlong, gritty, and uneven, Lopez carries the film in a role that unfortunately doesn’t give her much to work with. The flaws are many, but the lead’s charisma help elevate the movie to a step above unwatchable. A pity when, with a better vision, the film could have been in league with Liam Neeson’s Taken.
Jennifer Lopez plays an ex-assassin, a woman with a particular set of skills, that turns against her associates after she discovers the immorality of their operation. She turns to the FBI, who fails to protect her when Adrian (Joseph Fiennes) comes to silence her. She escapes, but not before he stabs her pregnant stomach. Fearing no end to the lengths, her associates will go, she gives her daughter Zoe (Lucy Paez) up to the protection of the FBI. She then goes on the lam to Alaska. Twelve years later, she sets out to protect her daughter when she receives word that she is being targeted.
Besides Lopez, the cast is unmemorable. Fiennes, in particular, is at a career low, clearly bored and disinterested in the villainous role. Paez, a relative newcomer, adds sparks of light to some scenes. The writers, unfortunately, make her character a brat that disobeys every instruction given to her, making what should be the most sympathetic character a chore to root for. Gael Garcia Bernal does next to nothing as the second of the Mother’s former associates.
The message of the film is not subtle. Motherhood changes a person, and a Mother will go to great lengths to protect her young. If this was not obvious enough between the Mother and Zoe, a wolf and her cubs also exist to drive that message home. This is, however, the only clear message throughout the nearly two-hour runtime. Adrian and Hector seem to have near-endless resources despite lamenting that the Mother ruined everything they had. A subplot regarding the paternity of Zoe is a mystery that the writers clearly couldn’t find a satisfying answer to. Overall, director Niki Caro’s direction lacks focus and is uneven. She clearly had a lot she wanted to say, but it all got jumbled in rewrites.
That said, there are flashes of the film that could have been. When Zoe and the Mother are on the run, they begin training Zoe to stay alive. The chemistry between the two actresses is palpable in these scenes, but more often they are at odds. The cinematography is strong. One long shot of a car crash on a country road was particularly enthralling, and the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness stole the show.
Overall, The Mother is a bit of a mess. Lopez turns a fine performance but is not strong enough to elevate the film past its uneven writing and scattered plots. What could have been a spin on the Taken franchise lacks the teeth to rise above more than a standard revenge flick. The supporting cast is either wasted or actively disinterested but the cinematography helps make the film watchable. In the end, The Mother is far from nourishing.