Ghosted director Dexter Fletcher caused a tiny stir at the end of last month with his candid revelation about making a film for a major streamer.
He told Deadline that Apple TV+ scuppered his proposed long opening sequence for Ghosted because their data showed that streaming audiences turn the film off if “something doesn’t happen in the first 30 seconds”.
I couldn’t help but think of this quote as I watched the opening hour of The Mother. During this time, Netflix’s assassin thriller starring Jennifer Lopez moves from one action scene to another at an absurdly fast speed. But while there are certain moments and shots that seem impressive, The Mother never gives viewers a chance to appreciate them.
Soon enough, you’re completely desensitised to the fights, shootings and car chases. Even though you’re watching sequences that should get your blood pumping, it’s all just dull because you’ve not had a chance to get to know the characters.
In The Mother, Lopez’s unnamed titular protagonist is a former solider and assassin who, during her time serving in Afghanistan, became involved with the dastardly British army sergeant Adrian Lovell (Joseph Fiennes) and shady businessman Hector Alvarez (Gael Garcia Bernal). After helping the pair commit a few dubious deals, Lopez’s character is disgusted to learn that they’ve moved into human trafficking.
At that point, she contacts the American government, which includes William Cruise (Omari Hardwick). But Lovell follows the Mother, kills all of the agents protecting her, and is about to kill her when he notices that she’s heavily pregnant. This doesn’t stop Lovell trying to kill the baby, but the Mother’s home-made bomb then explodes, allowing her and Cruise to narrowly escape.
Lopez’s Mother is forced to go into hiding but only after the government confiscates her baby, Zoe. Cruise promises to keep Mother up to date with Zoe’s life. Twelve years later, after Mother discovers that Lovell has learnt of Zoe’s existence, she comes out of retirement and races to protect her. But she’s too late. Zoe (Lucy Paez) is kidnapped. So Mother and Cruise have to track down Alvarez and Lovell to try to save her.
The Mother’s first hour is an exhausting epitome of everything that’s wrong with action streaming movies. Rather than trying to make viewers feel invested or care about the story and its characters, it’s too concerned with making sure you’re not bored. The result of this is much worse, though, you’re left not caring.
When The Mother does eventually settle down, and we get some genuine moments of characterisation and emotion that make those involved feel like real people, the film immediately starts to become much more effective. This only occurs when Zoe and Mother are forced to survive as a pair in the wilderness. Suddenly Zoe starts to rebel against the woman who rightfully left her to be adopted, while Mother becomes too overbearing and protective.
This is where Lopez is at her best, too. While she’s always been able to play caring and protective with ease, it is initially a little hard to believe in her as an assassin. But the longer The Mother goes on, the more cold and intense she becomes. When its final act of violence and action arrives, you’re fully invested in her efforts and believe she’s capable of stopping an entire army to protect her child.
But while The Mother’s compelling final hour just about makes up for its mundane beginning, there are other elements that frustratingly underwhelm. The Mother’s strong supporting cast are all wasted, in particular Garcia Bernal and Edie Falco. Plus, despite the best efforts of its renowned director Niki Caro, it is yet another example of streaming action sequences failing to muster the required intensity or propulsion to make you feel invested.
The likes of Netflix and Apple TV+ are unlikely to adjust their approach, though. Despite Fletcher’s aforementioned comments and the critical lashing that Ghosted received, Apple has since announced that it had their most-watched film debut. Considering the popularity of Lopez, it’s extremely likely that The Mother will be just as successful for Netflix.
While there’s much more to like about The Mother, Netflix will almost certainly learn the wrong lessons and credit the overwhelming action scenes rather than the heartfelt moments. That would be a huge mistake because without the later The Mother would probably have been Netflix’s worst film yet.