Director : Pierre Morel
Cast : Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, Richard Cabral, Annie Ilonzeh, Jeff Hephner, Cailey Fleming
Genre : Action/Drama/Thriller
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 6 September 2018
Rating : NC16
In the regrettable Daredevil and the even more regrettable spin-off Elektra, Jennifer Garner played an assassin with vengeance on the mind. Is this action thriller, Garner is once again out to give those who have wronged her what’s coming to them, as kind of a gender-flipped Punisher.
Garner plays Riley North, a banker who lives in suburban L.A. with her husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) and young daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming). Riley’s life is brutally upended when her husband and daughter are murdered in a drive-by shooting. She identifies the shooters as drug cartel members, but the cartel has paid off officials in the courts and law enforcement; those responsible walk free. Riley is enraged, and sets about remaking herself into a one-woman army, hunting down and killing those who murdered her family and those who helped them get away with it. With LAPD officers Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.) and Moises (John Ortiz) and FBI Agent Inman (Annie Ilonzeh) hot on her trail, Riley must evade the long arm of the law as she deals out her own fiery brand of justice.
Peppermint follows in a long line of revenge thrillers, and shares much in common with Death Wish, often thought of as the codifier of the subgenre. The poor reception garnered by the Bruce Willis-starring Death Wish remake earlier this year showed that as straightforward as movies like this might seem on paper, it takes finesse and savvy to execute them well. Peppermint wants to be a hard-boiled revenge movie like those Hollywood made in the 70s, but times have changed, and movies like this are expected to be more sophisticated in their handling of the themes. The Jodie Foster starrer The Brave One, also about a woman who survives a traumatic event and becomes a vigilante, attempted this but left a lot to be desired in its take on the morality of vigilante justice.
In most vigilante thrillers, we’re meant to root for the protagonist as they take matters into their own hands. To get us there, Peppermint employs emotionally manipulative tactics. The protagonist’s husband and daughter, leaving a carnival with peppermint ice cream in her hand, are gunned down in painful slow-motion, and all the family bonding scenes they share preceding that fateful moment are just set up for the death. We’re supposed to cheer Riley on as she blazes her path of vengeance, even as she acts sadistically. It’s too unpleasant to be much fun, and it seems like it wasn’t meant to be fun at all.
There’s a version of Peppermint that could have been an all-out bloody exploitation movie, enjoyable on a trashy level. Instead, director Pierre Morel, who also helmed Taken, seems intent on making it work on a dramatic level, which he struggles with. As such, while the action in Peppermint is sometimes intense, the movie is altogether grave and joyless, taking itself far too seriously. In both its premise and execution, Peppermint seems to be a movie that wants to be treated like a serious drama, instead of violent entertainment.
Much of the film hinges on Jennifer Garner’s performance, and it is nice to see her back in an action role, years after Alias, the afore-mentioned Daredevil and Elektra, and The Kingdom. Garner has mostly been in family movies as of late, so there’s a degree of satisfaction in seeing her go the full Sarah Connor. We’ve got to buy Riley as someone who transforms from regular career woman and mum to a hardened badass, and Garner puts effort into making that metamorphosis convincing. However, the movie still demands plenty of suspension of disbelief, and Garner’s central performance, strong as it is, is not enough to hold the whole thing together.
The other characters fall neatly into boxes: cop, gang member, husband, daughter, et. al. The movie isn’t too interested in fleshing anyone out, and while the villains of the film are shown committing despicable acts, they’re too nondescript to be compellingly threatening. Ortiz overacts a little as the harried cop, while John Gallagher Jr.’s performance as the cop who’s sympathetic to Riley is at least a little interesting.
Peppermint is an uncomplicated movie about a complicated topic. It wants to give the appearance of considering the implications of what it depicts but doesn’t really. Perhaps the current political climate in the U.S. mirrors that of the 70s to a certain degree, resulting in resentment of the status quo and frustration at the injustices that are a by-product of corruption and complacency. However, if we’re supposed to take a vigilante thriller seriously and really consider the questions it raises, it’s got to be more nuanced and less heavy-handed than Peppermint.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars