Perhaps the most painful thing about watching Netflix’s latest action-thriller The Mother is that we are able to witness, first-row, what it could have been. Throughout its 120-minute runtime, director Niki Caro is able to pack quite a range of film genres, and while there are some cringeworthy moments along the way, she is never able to excel at any of them, which is probably the biggest problem of the movie — how average and cliché it feels, despite having some tasty ingredients that could have made for a memorable meal.
It’s almost a dèja vu for me writing this after a few months of complaining about how the action and superhero film genre has become extremely dull, as the filmmakers hadn’t experienced the last 20 years and realized that audiences are more mature.
The Mother strikes like a film that could have been played on TV on a Saturday afternoon 10 years ago, and I would have gladly fallen asleep through the middle portion and felt like I hadn’t really missed anything if I woke up during the third act. This is precisely the reason why, despite being flawed, movies like John Wick Chapter 4 and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 felt like a breath of fresh air for their respective genres.
The story of The Mother feels repetitive, though a simple change could have boosted its creativity
Jennifer López stars as a highly-skilled assassin, whose daughter is stripped away from her after being born, when her Government employers decide she is not fit to raise her properly. And we will soon learn exactly why. 12 years later, López’s unnamed character (simply labeled in the credits as “mother”) has been able to find her, but so has a group of dangerous men who kidnap the child (played by Lucy Paez), setting mother on a race against time to save the daughter she never met… Though the clock only ticks when it’s convenient to the plot, of course.
The story takes a few turns later, and I won’t be spoiling them here, but as you can imagine, mother and daughter will be reunited at some point, and the film will explore their relationship. This is obviously nothing we haven’t seen before, and while that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist, there are a few things that could have significantly improved the narrative.
Even a film like Taken feels claustrophobic because of the stakes involved — Liam Neeson must not rest until he’s reunited with his daughter and used his very specific set of skills to take down anyone who crosses paths with him. But The Mother takes a more adventure film approach, where López can enjoy a few quiet moments before rescuing her kid, as if every moment didn’t matter. And that feeling is directly translated to the audience.
In general, I do not enjoy doing, reading, or watching any alternate takes labeled as “How to fix X movie”, but this is something that I couldn’t stop thinking about while watching The Mother, so I might as well share it.
As teased by the title of the film, and as stated throughout its entire runtime, the most important element of the narrative is the relationship between mother and daughter. We see it through the maternal eyes, and get to experience the lengths a mother is willing to go to protect her child. But we know how that works already, and unless you have an absolutely revolutionary take on that relationship, is there really a point in trying to explore that again? What if, instead, we framed the entire film through the daughter’s point of view?
I get that we like to have someone like Jennifer López at the forefront of flashy action sequences that are just a compilation of mediocre sounds and quick edits that prevent us from actually seeing a fistfight, but at some point, we have to put the story first. When did we forget that?
Niki Caro and The Mother‘s action sequences
The Mother is, by no means, a terrible movie. It’s just a bit forgettable, a film that blends into the background after a while. It features a few action setpieces that have some very strong elements but that ultimately fall apart in close-range combat.
There is a chase sequence through the streets of Cuba that works quite well, but when that leads into a more direct confrontation, director Niki Caro is never able to sell any of the punches, as we clearly see the fists stop right before hitting the other person’s face at the same time we hear a very fake sound. The third act includes a gorgeous-looking action setpiece in the snow… that has already been done extremely well by the Bond franchise and Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
Caro’s direction is at its best in the more intimate scenes of the film, at least when those make sense in the edit, but even then she wasn’t able to take the average script by Misha Green, Andrea
Berloff, and Peter Craig to new grounds, and the movie once again fell off quite flat. By the end, I was honestly expecting Jennifer López to lower her gun after shooting a faceless thug and say to the camera “Nobody touches my daughter”.
What did you think of Niki Caro’s The Mother? Have you seen it already, or was it even on your radar? If you have seen it, was I expecting too much, or do you agree that it overall felt a bit underwhelming? Let us know your thoughts on our social media, and stay tuned for more reviews!