When it comes to the title of America’s sweetheart, Jennifer Garner is a serious contender. She’s beyond empathetic onscreen, she clearly adores her family (both kids and chickens), and she’s become the dream onscreen mom (see Love, Simon). But let’s not forget that she’s no stranger to the action world, either. Peppermint combines Garner’s sweet mom vibe with serious action chops for an intense, though imperfect, revenge thriller.
Garner stars as Riley North, a working-class mom employed as a bank teller. While there’s clearly a lot of love in the North family – which also includes Riley’s husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) and their daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming) – money is tight, which causes Chris to consider earning some quick cash as a getaway driver for his coworker’s scheme to rob a local drug lord named Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba). Chris wisely backs out of the job, but not before Garcia gets wind of the plan and decides to make an example out of the two would-be thieves. After enjoying a fun night at the Christmas carnival for Carly’s birthday (complete with peppermint ice cream), Riley looks on as her husband and daughter are gunned down by three of Garcia’s henchmen.
That kind of trauma would change anyone’s life, but Riley becomes nearly unrecognizable after the insanely corrupt judge and prosecutors fail to serve justice and the three murderers walk free. Riley goes on the run and off the grid for five years, hellbent on becoming a professional killing machine with one goal: revenge.
After this off-screen transformation, Riley returns to Los Angeles ready to serve some justice of her own. She strings up the bodies of the three gunmen on a ferris wheel and then continues a one-woman operation to take down Garcia’s entire cartel, not to mention the judge and prosecutors who contributed to the wrongful “not guilty” verdict. The cops seem more interested in catching Riley than they do Garcia, while social media and the residents of the skid row neighborhood she has made her home base think of her as a vigilante hero (or even an angel, as shown in a massive graffiti tribute).
Peppermint definitely has its share of issues, which can primarily be boiled down to a thin, familiar plot; broadly drawn supporting characters who don’t get to move beyond stereotypes; and problematic subtext in its revenge narrative. While the bad guys aren’t exclusively people of color (and some of the good guys are), Riley’s vigilante killing spree of primarily non-white criminals is pretty much devoid of nuance and may put some viewers off.
That said, Jennifer Garner delivers a standout performance that makes the film worth watching. From devoted mom to broken woman to hardboiled vigilante balancing badassery with black humor, Garner sells each and every facet of Riley North’s character and makes you care about her. She also shows her action skills in a series of intense combat scenes, including a memorable shootout in a piñata store. Let’s get this woman some more starring action roles, stat.
All in all, Peppermint is an exciting thriller, though some viewers may find the subtext concerning. It’s not a perfect film, but it does effectively remind us that Jennifer Garner can hold her own as an action star – something I would love to see her do more often in the near future. Are you listening, Hollywood?
Peppermint is in theaters now.
Featured Image: Michael Muller / STX