Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz
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…a dull, tired and thoroughly unconvincing entry in the sub-genre.
The worst thing an action movie can do is be unconvincing. By the divine law of artistic license, action heroes always win the day, something that’s easier to buy when the hero in question fits the bill. This is why Luc Besson and his galaxy of collaborators, including director Pierre Morel (Taken, The Gunman) are as much of a boon to the genre. More times than not, they manage to chisel leading bravado out of seemingly unlikely actors. And with this latest feature, Morel and writer Chad St. John (London Has Fallen) seem to be trying the same thing with Jennifer Garner. Even though she does have prior experience in the action arena, the results here are far from impressive.
To Garner’s credit, she definitely manages to sell the emotional pain of Riley, a mother who watched her husband and daughter get gunned down by cartel thugs. The obnoxious spasms of over-editing courtesy of Frédéric Thoraval may diminish the psychological anguish at times, but for the most part, she sells the role of a person wanting to seek retribution for a system that left her behind.
As a person actively delivering on that retribution, though, she falters to a production-halting degree. The one-liners, the near-Batman levels of world-travelling to perfect her murderous craft, being able to clean out swarms of criminals and still live to tell the tale; none of it holds up to scrutiny. It’s all informed by the writing, and done so with the subtlety of a tap-dancing rhino, but never comes across as being within the character’s means. She kills, she survives, she gets her “justice” mainly because the script says that she must.
But the far greater indictment of this feature is that, even with all that in mind, Garner is still the best thing here. John Gallagher Jr., an actor who has managed to highly impress of late in 10 Cloverfield Lane, Hush and The Belko Experiment, and John Ortiz as the police officers following Garner’s trail remain stuck in genre clichés, much like the story they occupy.
Whatever semblance of nuance could be wrung out of the trappings here, something required to take a modern vigilante thriller seriously, ring as hollow as Riley’s cries that she is seeking “justice”. It barely even qualifies as “vengeance” either, given her excursion to accost a random drunken father that has nothing to do with anything else she partakes in; it’s more like a perverse form of entitlement, going far beyond anything resembling reason.
That is the big differential between justice and vengeance: what we know must be done vs. what we feel must be done. It’s also the dichotomy that, when delved into, can make for the stuff of vigilante cinema legend, like with Dirty Harry or Death Sentence, and if this film had a proper head on its shoulders, it could’ve made for at least something watchable. But alas, all we get is a dull, tired and thoroughly unconvincing entry in the sub-genre.