Director: Pierre Morel
Screenwriter: Chad St. John
John Gallagher Jr.
Juan Pablo Raba
Runtime: 101 mins.
Australian release date: 13 December 2018
Previewed at: Roadshow Theatrette, Sydney, on 3 December 2018.
When talking of his new film, Peppermint, French-born Hollywood action director Pierre Morel says, “In a way it is a continuation of [my film] Taken but with a female protagonist. I think it’s about time,” and he’s right on the money. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, we’ve seen a swag of films featuring killer women in lead roles but they’ve mainly dealt with trained hit-women, like Red Sparrow and Atomic Blonde. OK, we’ve had the Lisbeth Salander movies, but she’s in a class of her own, not professionally trained but not exactly an amateur either. In Peppermint, the protagonist is a suburban wife and mother who transforms herself into an avenging angel when the justice system lets her down. Just like Liam Neeson’s character in 2008’s Taken, except that he was a husband and father.
In a clever opening scene, David Lanzenberg’s camera slowly swoops down on a large American sedan on a roof-top car park. It’s rocking on its chassis, setting us up to think there’s a bit of hanky-panky going on, but by the time the camera enters the cab we realise that it’s quite the reverse. There’s a man and a woman alright, but they’re not f**king, they’re fighting, and it’s not the first time that Morel and his scriptwriter Chad St. John will subvert our expectations. Meet Riley North, a woman who was once happily enjoying married life with a husband, Chris (Jeff Hephner), and a 10-year-old daughter, Carly (Cailey Fleming). Via flashback, we learn that Chris was having some cash-flow problems in his business and a friend was enticing him with a tempting drug deal, but Chris had come to his senses and turned his mate down. Word had got back to the dealers, however, and they worked for a Colombian cartel whose boss was going to send a message, whether he’d been ripped off or not. Riley survives to identify the shooters but the courts let her down and they go free, at which point she too drops off the radar until, five years later, the scene in the carpark marks her return.
While we’ve seen this kind of thing before, Riley’s an interesting character and St. John, who wrote the Gerard Butler-starrer London Has Fallen a couple of years ago, has contrived a very clever screenplay. It plays to your prejudices and sets up some racial stereotyping that doesn’t go where you expect it to - there’s a great twist in the plot. Add to this Morel’s stylish direction and an ominous score from Simon Franglen and you’ve got an above average revenge flick. Garner is very good as the hunter-killer vigilante. She says, “I loved that it was an original story and an action film with a woman as the lead character, the significance of which I do not take lightly. I hadn’t filmed a fight sequence for over 11 years, which is a long time to hang up your action chops and try to pull it back together, but I knew I could do it. It was the connection to the physical that helped me channel Riley’s desperation and the emotional motivation behind her need for revenge.” Supporting her are John Gallagher Jr. and John Ortiz as two LAPD detectives who are not exactly devoted to catching her character, given that’s she’s carving up the drug cartel. They’re both highly credible in their roles.
Be warned, there’s some pretty graphic violence and a massive body count and, like many of these kinds of revenge films, you have to check your disbelief at the door on the way in but, those provisos aside, it’s enjoyable seeing the bad guys get their comeuppance in Peppermint. Let’s face it, it doesn’t happen often in the real world, so at least let us have some justice in the celluloid one.