The Mother 2023 Movie Review
DAWN. AN FBI SAFEHOUSE IN INDIANA. A character only known as The Mother (J-Lo) is an informant on an arms deal and she’s telling the living shit out of the FBI agents that the bad guys know where they are and they’re coming and some of them are gonna die and that’s exactly what happens. This nasty-nasty named Lovell (Joseph Fiennes) backs her into a shower stall and this is when there’s a very highly dramatic reveal: She’s pregnant. Oh man. And how nasty-nasty is Lovell? He whips out a knife and stabs her right in the abdomen. But he can’t finish the job because her improvised explosive goes WHOOMP and burns half of Lovell’s face off.
Now, I’ve already tipped my hand with regards to what kind of movie this is, but this is the turning point, the tone-setting stretch of film that determines where it lands on the absurd-o-meter. The Mother awakens in the hospital. She’s OK. Her baby daughter is OK. And Lovell – well, he’s going to return with a mottled eye and really cool spiderweb of scars on his mug. Absurd-o-meter: we’re at about an 8. Edie Falco walks into the hospital room and informs The Mother that she’s far too wanted by the bad guys to keep the child, and here’s what she’s gonna do. She’s gonna sign the paperwork giving the girl up for adoption and then she’s gonna disappear and her days as a mercenary sniper assassin cold-blooded damn killer are over, and that’s that. She’s not happy about it but she takes one last look at the baby through the nursery window and we cut to her getting off a boat in Moosescat, Alaska. She holes up in a cabin and a subtitle reads 12 YEARS LATER and she’s still there.
Per the agreement, The Mother has been getting photos and updates on the girl. She’s been palling around with her pal and fellow war vet Jons (Paul Raci of The Sound of Metal) and also killing her own food, so we know her shooting skills haven’t waned. Might she need them for any reason beyond hunting? Hmm. And wouldn’t you know it, just when she thought she was out, you know the rest. The bad guys are planning a heist, and The Mother’s daughter Zoe (Lucy Paez), who’s very happy with her adopted parents and sneakers with the skates in the heels, is the haul. The Mother and FBI guy Cruise (Omari Hardwick) get to work, chasing the villains – Gael Garcia Bernal turns up as one of them – all over hell and yonder to get Zoe back. The Mother shows what’s inside her when she tries to get the girl’s location by pummeling a thug with barbed wire wrapped around her fist. Donald Rumsfeld would be thrilled to learn that her controversial interrogation technique works, and she extracts Zoe and takes her to Alaska, where she trains the kid to shoot and stab and appreciate her fresh rabbit stew. Meanwhile, the girl shows a remarkable ability to not freak out about the fact that her birth mother is an utterly humorless badass slayer of men. There’s no time for psychotrauma when there’s several more action sequences to work your way through!
The Mother shows no ambition beyond being a collection of action set pieces strung together by a sloppy plot that really wants to be about the Protective Power of Momhood, but is far more invested in shootouts and chases. The lock-eyes-with-the-mama-wolf stuff is played dead-serious, and it ends up being deadly unintentionally funny. Same goes for the sequence in which The Mother apparently read ahead in the script so she’d know exactly when the bad guys would re-snatch Zoe, allowing her to skid into the frame on a Harley Fat Boy just in the nick. Style trumps sense every time – and although Caro’s muscular style exhibits moments of flair and vibrancy, it’s not savvy enough to distract us from this murky, slapped-together story.
So what we’ve got here is a boilerplate action saga starring J-Lo as a tanktop-ballcap-and-aviators asskicker who never smiles ever and is capable of gritting her teeth and slamming her shoulder into a rock to pop it back into the socket. What, they couldn’t fit in a scene where she cauterizes her own bullet wound with a hot knife or some gunpowder and a lighter? This movie is uncompromisingly silly, unbelievable and incredible in the sense that you won’t believe a second of it and none of it is credible, from the psychological contents of its characters to its abdication of the laws of physics.
The screenplay introduces and disregards supporting characters with abandon, gives Fiennes very little to do as the villain and renders our protagonist a boilerplate cliche of an action hero with one dangling thread of vulnerability to tug on. She kills and kills and kills and shows no remorse, no inner conflict. But because she’s The Mother, and so fiercely devoted to being that, we’re essentially asked to ignore the fact that she’s a sociopath. In that sense, the film is a throwback to simpler times, when action heroes just did what they had to do and put their mental health in a jar and hid it in the darkest corner of the pantry. Granted, not every piece of entertainment needs to be a grandiose statement about the tragedy of the human condition, but I like to think we’ve elevated our standards for thematic content in movies – or at least enough visual wizardry and storytelling finesse to be an adequately entertaining diversion, which The Mother doesn’t quite achieve.