Jennifer Lopez is no stranger to an action-thriller. She starred in Enough (2002), Parker (2013), Lila & Eve (2015), and the cop drama Shades of Blue, to name a few. Her signature prowess and execution in these roles shows depth and nuance that often exceeds the script. In the case of Netflix’s The Mother, Lopez’s talent in the crime-thriller arena was this film’s saving grace.
Directed by Niki Caro, The Mother stars Jennifer Lopez as an anonymous assassin. After a close call with an arms-dealing criminal enterprise, Lopez leaves her newborn daughter in the care of the FBI. She flees to the remote Alaskan wilderness. When an FBI agent warns Lopez that her daughter is the next target for the revenge-driven arms dealers, she dives into the fray to protect the daughter she never met.
Lopez’s character is never named in the film. She goes by her alias “The Mother.” In a way, this is poetic. It shows that Lopez’s character is driven by her desire to nurture her child, which is has been unable to do because of her own actions.
In a lot of ways, this movie is reminiscent of Enough. Any fan of Enough will probably love The Mother, due to its uncanny likeness to the 2002 action-thriller. In Enough, Lopez starred as a mother who went on the run with her daughter to protect them from her abusive husband. Lopez learned to fight, so she could face her abuser at the end of the movie and take her life back. In contrast to The Mother, Enough had a degree of realism. Lopez played a wife trapped in a domestic abuse situation with a powerful husband.
In contrast, the plot of The Mother is so far-fetched that in order to enjoy the film, the audience has to really suspend disbelief. Lopez is a burned assassin and former member of the military who teaches her daughter how to fight in the Alaskan wilderness. Lopez’s character survives a vicious attack from her enemies in the first few minutes of the film that probably would not have held up on the average medical drama. The sequence where Lopez runs across car tops in a chase scene leaned in too heavily to action-movie tropes.
Some transitions were clunky and left the audience dangling as they struggled to catch up. While the title cards showing the time jumps helped, there were as many timeline holes as there were plot holes. Some strings were left dangling with no explanation, while others were wrapped up too neatly.
The antagonist, Adrian, played by a sinister Joseph Fiennes, didn’t seem to have motives for his indecisive behavior. His waffling made him a more ineffective villain. Adrian and his sidekick, Hector (Gael García Bernal), came off cartoonish. Characters bypassed the legal ramifications of their actions too easily. There wasn’t as much payoff for the audience at the end of the movie as there should be.
There are some artful moments of cinematography. Slow-motion shots of bullets going through the CDs during target practice had a mesmerizing quality. The camera shots were varied, so the audience could follow the action’s zany trajectory. Overhead shots established the vastness and isolation of the Alaskan wilderness setting. The ground shots during the garage chase added suspense.
While the wilderness scenes were filmed in Canada instead of Alaska, the setting did a great job of establishing the loneliness and isolation The Mother felt. There was also a sense of homey comfort in these scenes, like The Mother was more comfortable and at ease when she was alone. Lopez did solid work showing how stiff The Mother became when she was among people in Ohio.
Lopez’s performance holds up against the action-movie tropes she’s pitted against. The close-up shots of Lopez conveyed The Mother’s agony and trauma. Lopez did a masterful job of exuding a tough exterior to mask the pain her character refused to process. She trained to perform her own stunts, and her hard work paid off. Lopez’s moments were graceful and fluid, especially her confidence navigating the weaponry her character had expertise using.
Zoe, played by Lucy Paez, did an impressive job acting alongside a powerhouse like Lopez. She played Zoe in a believable way, and didn’t appear too precocious. The Mother and Zoe’s back-and-forth exchanges felt natural, as did the organic development of their relationship over the course of the film. Their chemistry elevated the clunky writing and meandering narrative.
While The Mother is eerily similar to Enough, that’s not a bad thing. Lopez proves she can still shoulder an action-thriller, no matter how implausible the script.