Published Sep 06, 2018Directed by Pierre Morel, Peppermint is about Riley (Jennifer Garner) a white woman vigilante out to get revenge on the Latino drug cartel that killed her husband and daughter. It's the kind of garbage movie that feels unsurprising amidst Trump-era anti-immigration rhetoric, and even if it was based on a less problematic premise, would still suffer from hacky writing.
The film starts by showing Riley that works in a bank, her husband works in an auto shop and their daughter is an earnest but slightly lonely young girl. When her husband briefly considers taking on a one-time driver job for a gang in order to make some extra cash, apparently this is enough to motivate a rival gang to shoot him and his daughter down in public — while at the carnival with his family. A corrupt judge and justice system keep the killers free.
Five years later, Riley, destroyed by anger and grief, has transformed into a no-holds-barred vigilante killer, who returns to L.A. in search of justice. She quickly takes care of the three men responsible for killing her family, which means the remainder of her vigilante justice efforts are spent harassing random people who have behaved badly, and brutally murdering unidentified Latino "gangbangers."
She threatens random people, such as a mom who was previously mean to her daughter, but there are clear lines drawn as to who she finds morally acceptable to kill, and who she just roughs up a bit. The film rests too comfortably on the idea that audiences will see her inherent humanity, as she looks longingly at a photo of her murdered daughter and sappy music plays, while simultaneously refusing humanity to the stereotyped men she murders.
And then there are also the homeless kids who live in Los Angeles' Skid Row, who look to Riley as a hero. As police investigate the case, we learn the area has become "low crime," all thanks to her. A mural of Riley, angel wings stretched out behind her, shows up on a wall overlooking the neighbourhood, in case the underlying white saviour mentality theme wasn't already explicit enough.
Subtlety and nuance are not Peppermint's strong point. The exposition is blunt, and half of the lines feel like they are clichés pulled randomly from action movies and detective shows. It's a thoroughly violent and painful film, for reasons very different than what Morel likely intended. (Elevation Pictures)