Credit: Ana Carballosa/Netflix
by Steven Warner Featured Film Streaming Scene

The Mother — Niki Caro

May 12, 2023

Just in time for Mother’s Day comes The Mother, a heartwarming tale of familial love courtesy of Netflix that opens with our titular heroine (Jennifer Lopez) getting brutally stabbed in her big pregnant belly — no worries, mom and baby are just fine. Yet those expecting a tasty slice of maternal sleaze a la Zack Parker’s Proxy or Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Inside would be wise to look elsewhere, as The Mother is simply the umpteenth gloss on Taken, in which a highly adept individual with a specific set of skills must shoot their way through dozens of bad guys in order to rescue their kidnapped offspring. 

The Mother — yes, she has no name, because this movie understands that all mothers are truly one mother, their struggles and triumphs binding them together while stripping them of individuality; yes, it’s insulting — is ex-military and a former Special Ops agent turned rogue who, as the film opens, is seeking FBI protection after ratting out the violent men with whom she did business. You see, The Mother isn’t a bad person. Sure, she brokered illegal arms deals between two of the most ruthless and dangerous men on the planet — Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Adrian (Joseph Fiennes), respectively — who then profited off their sale that presumably resulted in the death of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. But when she discovered that these men were also involved in human trafficking, her conscience could no longer be silenced, because… cognitive dissonance. The FBI ultimately demands that The Mother put her newborn daughter up for adoption if she wants to be a part of the witness protection program — hell of a caveat! 

But this mom is all about self-sacrifice in the name of safety for her child, so she hightails it to the Alaskan wilderness while the baby gets the suburban upbringing she deserves. In a stunning plot twist, however, Hector discovers the daughter’s identity and whereabouts — it takes him 12 years, but still — and so The Mother is called back into action, leaving a reprehensible amount of collateral damage in her wake. But wait, weren’t there two bad guys? The Mother desperately tries to avoid the repetition baked into its plot by having The Mother whisk daughter Zoe (Lucy Paez) away to Alaska after a second attempted kidnapping so that she can teach her how to shoot stuff and be a badass survivalist, hopefully before the aforementioned Adrian can track down their whereabouts. 

A film with a plot this hoary needs to excel in the action department if it wants to command any sort of attention, and unfortunately, director Niki Caro is simply not up to the task. A filmmaker whose resume includes a wildly overrated debut (Whale Rider) along with awards also-rans (North Country, The Zookeeper’s Wife) and big-budget studio fare (2020’s dud live-action Mulan remake), Caro’s visual style is as bland and generic as the plot of The Mother itself, with all of the various chase scenes and shoot-outs lacking finesse in both staging and cutting. She certainly isn’t helped by Lopez, who isn’t necessarily bad here, but is notably so stuck in glum-mode that it cancels out the star’s natural charisma. Bernal and his character, meanwhile, are in another movie altogether, with his voracious scenery-chewing matching a villain who, minus brief flashbacks, shares only one scene with Lopez, and the majority of his dialogue within it involves the various ways she “makes his dick hard” and how he can’t wait to “split her open” with it — Mother’s Day appointment-viewing if ever it existed. At least this leads to Lopez delivering a catchphrase that is sure to take on “I’ll be back!” levels of popularity, when she solemnly intones, “We didn’t have a safe word” as bullets begin to fly through the air. Kinksters, take heed, as there is little else of value on offer in The Mother, which fails to meet even its mind-numbingly low ambitions. Moms everywhere — the late Joan Crawford included — deserve better than this half-assed drudgery.

You can currently stream The Mother on Netflix.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 19.