PEPPERMINT, US, 2018. StarringcJennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr, John Ortiz, Juan Pablo Raba, Annie Ilonzeh, Jeff Hephner, Cailey Fleming, Eddie Shin, Method Man.Directed by Pierre Morel. 101 minutes. Rated MA (Strong themes and violence).
As well as the savours of sweetness in peppermints, in peppermint ice cream, there is also the touch of the sharp and the bitter. At a crucial stage in this actioner, a little girl is enjoying a peppermint ice cream when she is killed.
Audiences know from the outset that this is going to be violent film because we see a deadly confrontation, the camera moving in on a shaking car, going inside the car, and Jennifer Garner killing the men within. And then the action moves to 5 years earlier. Explanations, yes. Justifications, perhaps?
The word used for this kind of film is, of course, vigilante. 45 years before Peppermint, Charles Bronson appeared in Death Wish, an ordinary citizen whose wife is raped and killed, who is so emotionally affected that he goes out into the streets to mete out justice, beyond the law. The film made an impact in the 1970s and was followed by several sequels. After that, the vigilante thriller became something of a genre with its particular conventions about crime, victims, revenge, justice, the role of the law, the vigilantes being seen as criminal on the one hand and hero on the other.
And so, Peppermint fits entirely into this genre. Where it is different is that the vigilante is female. Jennifer Garner appeared in the television series in the early 2000s, action lead in Alias (and then followed this as Electra). In the meantime, she has made a number of family films and romantic comedies but here, as Riley, she is more than back in action.
We learn that the villains of the piece are drug lords and drug dealers, merciless and vengeful, no scruples in killing Riley’s husband who had been in invited to be a driver by his partner in a car repair job but who had phoned to refuse.
Riley had been wounded in the attack but had escaped and disappeared for the five years, information then coming in that she had been involved in all kinds of martial arts and training.
Sometimes vigilantes also appear as “avenging angels” and this is what she seems. With expert skills, timing, ability to conceal herself, split-second action, she seems to be cleaning up the city. But, on a bus, she encounters a little boy and gives him a toy, only to find that the drunken father brutally throws the toy away – and she follows him into a store and gives him a lesson in child consideration that he will never forget. It is clear that while she is avenging, she also has the Guardian Angel qualities.
In the past, she had encountered a detective, Carmichael, John Gallagher Jr, as well as his superior, Beltran, John Ortiz. They become involved in completing the work they had been involved in five years earlier, tracking down Riley, working within the law, but not against her bringing down the drug lords, especially in the final violent confrontation where, once again, innocent children are involved, taken as hostage.
Riley is rugged, to say the least, and the film writers know this and provide possibilities for a sequel – and the suggestion would be that she should become part of Special Ops and might find some causes in Afghanistan or the Middle East! (The director is Pierre Morel who has had a successful career in France and in the US in this kind of action thriller, especially the Liam Neeson action thriller, Taken.)
Roadshow. Released December 13th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.