Cast: Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, Method Man
Director: Pierre Morel
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Peppermint is an action thriller which tells the story of young mother Riley North (Jennifer Garner) who awakens from a coma after her husband and daughter are killed in a brutal attack on the family. When the system frustratingly shields the murderers from justice, Riley sets out to transform herself from citizen to urban guerilla. Channeling her frustration into personal motivation, she spends years in hiding honing her mind, body and spirit to become an unstoppable force — eluding the underworld, the LAPD and the FBI — as she methodically delivers her personal brand of justice.
It is not very often that we get to see a competently made action movie that stars a female lead. After Atomic Blonde came out last year, the door for these moments was opened and now we know that these types of movies can be made and do well either critically or commercially. Peppermint looks to capitalize on this new, relatively uncharted territory by giving us Jennifer Garner as a strong, independent female lead. Where the film fails though is that this movie is essentially just Death Wish with a better acted protagonist. While Garner was actually pretty captivating in her role, almost every below-the-line decision seemed like it went out of its way to undermine Garner. From the poor direction, shoddy editing, and weak story, Garner is not a miracle worker and could not save this movie from its own terrible decision-making.
The story follows Riley North (Garner) a woman who witnessed her husband and daughter get killed in a drive-by shooting by local members of a drug cartel. When the trial against the culprits does not yield the justice Riley is looking for, she isolates herself for years training to one day come back and deliver justice herself. Starting off with what works well, Garner delivers a very strong emotional as well as physical performance. Garner very easily shows us why we should empathize with her and her situation, which makes it very easy to root for her. Unlike Death Wish, which tries to take the moral high road even though the character is a very morally flawed individual, Peppermint stays in its lane and focuses primarily on the individuals responsible for Riley’s pain. When outside people are included in her actions, she never takes it further than necessary and shows how she can prove her point. Outside of Garner though, the film tends to be a mess from start to finish. From a story standpoint, the one thing the film could have done better is focus more on the main people who caused Riley pain instead of the cartel as a whole. I wish we had gotten to see more of the interactions between the actual killers and Riley, but these moments are either briefly shown or overshadowed all together. I understand the film is going for this John Wick style of plot where the main character is wronged and the whole organization needs to go down because of it, but John Wick provides a serviceable amount of buildup before these moments whereas Peppermint quickly glosses over these moments. Outside of the plot, there is no explanation as to where Riley’s elite memory comes from. Riley is just some random person at the beginning of the film and while she spends substantial time physically training, her ability to remember every detail from every moment of her life is never addressed. These moments just appear whenever they are convenient, and I wish we got an explanation as to how she remembers all of these details. Finally, many of the editing choices feel like they are out of a bad action movie from the early 2000’s. The opening sequence is most guilty of this, including some of the most blatant sins such as fast panoramic shots of Los Angeles and text that is double-lifted and moves quickly across the screen and shows us just how, “intense,” this movie is going to be. This might be a minor detail, but it shows us off right from the beginning that this film is probably not going to be an all time classic.
Overall, if it was not for Jennifer Garner, Peppermint probably would have ended up as one of my least favorite movies of 2018. Instead, we ended up with a movie that is certainly flawed, but not nearly as bad as it could have been. The action sequences were relatively interesting and Garner certainly carries the movie, but outside of that, the movie needed much more attention if it wanted to be something special.
Overall Score: 3.5/10