The Movie Guru: Jennifer Garner delivers a killer performance in “Peppermint”
September 7, 2018
Hollywood, please make Jennifer Garner the new Liam Neeson.
Despite a name that seems to belong to a different, less interesting movie, "Peppermint" is exactly the kind of well-made, somewhat thoughtful action movie I'd love to see more of. I'd also love to see more action movies from Garner, who transitions from "Hollywood's New Favorite Mom" to a killing machine that manages to be both surprisingly believable and utterly heartbreaking. The mom-with-a-vengeance storyline is done satisfyingly and well, but Garner could just as easily pull off any one of a dozen other action movie tropes that male actors have been pulling off for years.
Here, she's a wife and mother whose husband and daughter are gunned down due to an unfortunate brush with criminal activity. When the system fails her and sets the gunmen free, she disappears for five years and returns as a brutally efficient killing machine that systematically tracks down and executes everyone who was involved in her family's death. The cops and the FBI realize what's happening and try to stop her, but it turns out that public opinion may be on her side.
The movie opens with a brutal, efficient, and faintly humorous fight that soon slides into the backstory of how Garner's character got to be where she is. It's absolutely heartbreaking to watch, thanks in large part to Garner's performance. She's fantastic with emotions, and watching her as a happy, loving, well-adjusted woman fills you with absolute dread because we've already seen the woman she collapses into. Garner traces that fall fearlessly, creating a believable, compelling thread between the happy wife and mother we see earlier and the deeply damaged killing machine we know now.
Conveniently, the movie also delivers killer action scenes. The choreography is fantastic, the set-ups are clever, and all of it strikes the balance between relative realism and visual interest. She falls, bleeds and gets thrown around a lot, but she's also intelligent, incredibly tough, and obsessively focused. She uses their expectations against them multiple times, creating an enemy that they never seem to see coming. That's bad for them, but deeply entertaining for those of us in the audience.
Director Pierre Morel plays with a few audience expectations as well, from the opening scene to the characterization of some of the supporting cast. There's nothing revolutionary here, but the kind of craftsmanship Morel and screenwriter Chad St. John pour into "Peppermint" is hardly a given in the action movie genre.
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There's also a low-key but very real sense of humor. Garner gets a few killer lines, and she delivers every one of them beautifully. The best comes in a scene featuring one of her mortal enemies from her life as a suburban mom, a darkly hilarious moment that anyone who's had to deal with the PTA will understand on a deep level.
Now I want to see Garner as a former Marine who needs to rescue her kidnapped daughter, or a cop who teams up with a streetwise grifter to take down the mob. "Peppermint" is great (except for that title), and it makes me want more.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.