Directed by: Pierre Morel
Premise: Five years after her husband and child were murdered by gangbangers, a woman (Jennifer Garner) takes revenge on criminals and corrupt officials.
What Works: Peppermint is a shoot-’em-up revenge picture in the tradition of Death Wish and Commando. The filmmakers have no illusions about what kind of movie they are making and Peppermint delivers the action with efficiency and energy. A revenge movie is all about righteous rage. These stories open with a wrong committed against an otherwise innocent person and when legal solutions are exhausted the hero picks up a gun and forces a just outcome. For the revenge tale to work the original sin has to be severe, the trauma must be visceral, and the routes to justice dead ended. These movies go wrong when one of those qualities is lacking and the story rushes into the revenge. The filmmakers of Peppermint take care to work their way through the prerequisites. The film takes its time in the opening, setting up the mother, played by Jennifer Garner, as a good mom and a dutiful citizen. Her husband and child are murdered in cold blood and the film allows the audience to feel the emotional pain of that loss and then compounds it with a corrupt legal process that lets the killers of the hook. This puts our hero in a sympathetic position and allows us to accept her violent revenge. The movie succeeds in large part because of Jennifer Garner. She carries the emotional trauma throughout her performance and she’s capable of playing the vanilla suburban mom and the cold hearted assassin and bridging those two phases believably into a single character. The set pieces of Peppermint are done well. The shootouts don’t have the digitally enhanced extravagance of a comic book movie nor do they have the polish of the John Wick series. That works for Peppermint. The action retains a believable scale that suits the premise. At the same time, the set pieces are appropriately violent and possess a furious energy.
What Doesn’t: The middle portion of Peppermint is mostly a series of set pieces and they are only loosely connected. One scene doesn’t lead to the next and the movie operates like a video game. Peppermint delivers the base thrills of a shoot-’em-up but it never gets beyond that. It is a morally simplistic movie that neatly sidesteps any complexities about violence and morality. That may be asking too much of Peppermint, which just seeks to provide thrilling entertainment. But unlike Taken, in which the hero is highly trained, Jennifer Garner’s character is a civilian who transforms into a killer. The story skips over her training. Her family is killed and five later Garner’s character reappears as a steely super assassin. The filmmakers omit the most interesting part of her story.
Bottom Line: Peppermint is exactly what it advertises itself to be and the intended audience ought to come away feeling like they got what they paid for. But it is also a morally simplistic film that in no uncertain terms endorses the argument that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun” and how viewers react to Peppermint is inextricable from the way they feel about that ethos.
Episode: #716 (September 16, 2018)