Jennifer Garner, the darling of the rom-com and one of the most known actresses of the 90s and early 2000s, has been off the radar for some time. However, recently I was surprised to hear about her hopeful comeback in this years bloody film, Peppermint. In it she plays a grieving widow whose husband has been gunned down for even considering to steal from cartel boss, Diego Garcia. In a world of corrupt cops and amoral lawyers, she decides she must take justice in her own hands when her daughter is gunned down with him.
Does this bloody tale of revenge serve up a nice cold dish?
Well, it serves it lukewarm.
For starters, the story hits a lot of familiar notes that people will be familiar with in a revenge flick. Heck, if you saw 2007's The Brave One or even Kill Bill, you'll be getting all the right notes. Family/lover dies, woman trains/applies training to extract bloody vengeance on her tormentors. She's possibly amoral, unstable, and definitely going against the law. Responsible authority figures who have tried to help but failed try to stop her, things get messy, and the blood flows.
Thematically there really isn't much to differentiate it from any other vigilante film. Cinematography wise, its nothing to write home about. The direction is capable, and there's a blessed lack of shaky-cam to infect the screen, and all the action looks good. Its nothing ground breaking, but is certainly serviceable for some blood and gore.
Few of the characters really stand out. Garner's character is, after the first act, mostly a silent protagonist speaking only a little to utter threats, grunt in pain, or some combination of the two. The other characters, mainly John Gallagher Jr.'s Detective Cairmaichal, John Ortiz's Detective Moises Beltran and Juan Raba's Diego Garcia are mostly one note characters. While Cairmaichal and Moises have a bit of an onscreen competition for who gets to be the corrupt cop, Garcia is just a villain who is out to show how villainous he is. That's about all there is to it.
Garner though, does a creditable job showing she can be a badass. Her action is done well, and she clearly worked to get in shape for this role and learn the movements of someone who knows cage fighting, tactical shooting and infiltration. She pulls off the mindless revenge seeker well, and even manages to be over the top cruel without seeming too unsympathetic to the viewer.
However, the film plays up the grieving mother angle without any real twist or subtlety. In a moment where we see her with the villain cornered, we get a sudden twist that he has a daughter and so she can't kill him! The daughter of course, was never referenced before, and disappears from the narrative and her own thought process shortly after. A one time distraction that doesn't effect the plot and really served no purpose. Does the idea of taking away someone else's family disturb her? Does she want to 'free' this daughter from a criminal father? Or any other motivation that being haunted by a dead daughter? Nope. Just a one second cop out.
She also hallucinates her dead daughter a lot. Whether it be in near prophetic warnings or timely scenes which serve to remind the viewer why she's suddenly balls out for revenge. The visions of dead daughter are mostly left-field, they haven't happened before, and it doesn't seem like there's a great reason for them happening here. It seems as though they are only obligatory for the 'dead child and revenge' story we're being told.
Some secondary plots and dialogue, conversations amongst Detective's Cairmaichal and Moises about 'Bigfoot' and Cairmaichal maybe being attracted to the FBI agent introduced partially into the second act, don't go anywhere. There's the idea that Cairmaichal may be trying to shift the heat off Garner's character, but that doesn't go anywhere either. Really all these secondary points seem like something picked up by the writer, and then they never really decide what to do with it.
Overall, the film feels less like a big reboot for Garner's career, and more like a film of the times. In her March 2018 article What the New Wave of Female Vigilante Films Says About the #MeToo Movement Emily Yoshida states "And so it seems fitting, if coincidental, that at a time when innumerable sexual harassment and assault allegations have tarnished [Harvey] Weinstein’s legacy, female vigilantes are back on the big screen with a literal vengeance." So it seems, if recent films like Jennifer Lawrence's Red Sparrow or even the new Tomb Raider film are a way for female actors (and their watchers) to punch back at the male dominated establishment, while entertaining us with some excellent popcorn along the way.
Punching, Garner delivers in spades. Along with shooting, kicking, and stabbing her opponents, she is merciless in her crusade for revenge. While by no means an intellectual, particularly thrilling, or even original film, it is one you can crunch some popcorn watching.
While I doubt Peppermint will ever be on anyone's all time favorite movie list, it may entertain you for a few hours at least. A film of the times maybe, but I can't say it is much beyond that. If anything, it will show Julia Garner's still has game, and maybe we will be seeing her pull of some bigger punches in the future.