Synopsis – A mother stops at nothing to recover her kidnapped son.
My Take – Unlike most I still believe that Halle Berry is a good actress who hasn’t received the right amount of due yet, sure she got an Oscar for her performance in Monster’s Ball & gained worldwide acclaim when she played the fan favorite Storm in the X-Men films, but for an actress of her caliber, I believe the right calling to stage her bounce back still remains, maybe, her supporting role in the highly anticipated Kingsman: The Golden Circle will do the trick, who knows, right? This film in question here, admittingly has one of the worst trailers I have ever seen, which doesn’t help the fact that it’s been about three years since the film completed its production & has languished unreleased while entangled in the Relativity Media bankruptcy mess. Luckily, I was very wrong! As the film is a thrill ride from start to finish, what starts out like a fresh sunny day turns into a nightmare instantly when that child is abducted. It has all the elements of a B-film thriller – a threadbare plot, a charismatic lead, nonstop energy, and a runtime that skips right past you if you’re not paying attention. The flip side is that it doesn’t really do much to elevate the genre, which means a certain amount of predictability can be expected, but, like Berry‘s mostly serviceable 2013 thriller The Call, this film from director Luis Prieto proves that merely delivering on a film’s promises, even if not quite exceeding them is often enough. In a way, I kind of admire it for simply being what it is and nothing more. You’re not going to get thought provoking themes or deep character development. The film is structured with the sole purpose of filling your time with mindless entertainment. Also like The Call, this film makes one thing abundantly clear: You really don’t want to mess with Halle Berry!
The story follows Karla Dyson (Halle Berry), a single mother & a waitress going through a nasty divorce & a custody battle over her six-year-old son Frankie (Sage Correa). Once her shift ends at the dinner she works at, she decides to take Frankie out to a small carnival in order to make the whole situation seem normal to him. However, during the activities when she steps out for a minute to a answer a phone call from the attorney, she realizes that Frankie is missing from the place where she last left him. At first, she runs around the park screaming his name & searching for him in the rides, until she reaches the parking lot and finds him being dragged forcefully into a car. Hoping to get them to stop, Karla begins a long chase with the kidnappers (Chris McGinn & Lew Temple). With no cell phone, limited amount of gas in her car and no weapons to stop them, her hope is the only key to saving her son. I really think, the film says it all with the tagline that they messed with the wrong mother. This is an intense thriller, that wastes no time in getting started with its adrenaline rush car chases literally within the first twelve minutes of the film. I never lost interest for a second, and the sheer intensity and suspense that I felt throughout the film got to the level where I was actively looking to see how many more minutes was left before it ended & not because I was bored and wanted to know how much more tedium I had to suffer, but so that I could tell how much more hell the protagonist (and by extension, I) had to go through before all the nail-biting suspense could finally come to an end. The action is virtually non-stop, with some big surprises along the way. The screenplay by Knate Gwaltney (Bad Grandpa) and the direction of Luis Pietro (Pusher) give us a creative combination of the “Fast and the Furious” films and 1997’s under-appreciated “Breakdown“. The film is a bit like an orchestra with no strings or percussion. It’s an uneasy blend of two genres. One genre involves an ordinary individual who catapulted into a situation for which they have no training, but must rise up against seeming insurmountable odds. “The Vanishing” and “Ransom” come to mind. The genre involves criminals who messed with the wrong guy who is willing to chase them to the gates of hell. “Marine,” “First Blood,” “Air Force One” and “The Equalizer” are examples. In both genres, the protagonist must call upon a range of talents and strategies. There may be unarmed fights, knife fights, gunfights, subterfuges, deception, concealment, negotiations, alliances, betrayals, footraces, car chases, chases on bicycles, etc. We as an audience are placed in Karla’s perspective as she is afraid and feeling the adrenaline that she will not stop and give up. She spends what seems like an hour of the film’s ninety-four minutes basically chasing the kidnappers in her family minivan. There are two brief fight scenes, a couple of knives are brandished, a few shots are fired with a sawed-off shotgun, a tense negotiation, an abortive effort to involve the authorities, a foot chase that ends where it began, but basically, it’s her and her minivan. The only love angle is the maternal love toward her son. There are telephone exchanges with her estranged husband’s lawyer and answering machine. There are no sidekick, faith or doubt characters, so Halle spends a lot of time talking to herself. Even in car chases, she makes the deadly reverse on the freeway causing several cars to collide with each other. (Others may be put in harm’s way but it is her son’s life that is her only concern). When, she gets close to their car they roll down the window with a knife threatening her son. Which leaves her to back away for a bit. But she will not give up on losing them. The film does slow down for a minute when she enters a police station to put in a missing child report only to discover that there are several children missing for a long period of time. When her instincts kick in that she cannot let her son go through the same thing as others. But the scene plays an important part in portraying the progress Karla as a mother who will do whatever it takes to make sure their child is safe, even if it requires lots of wreck less driving, possibly injuring or killing others in car accidents. The film shows the most common method of abduction, telling the child their mom or dad sent them to get them. We also got to see what really happens when you lose a child. Sitting back and waiting is just not an option. As we seen in the scene where Carla goes to the police station, the sad truth is the police officer treated it as just another missing kid. It was normal which is the sad reality these days. When she looked at the board and seen all the posters for missing kids who have not yet been found, it was a real eye opener into what really goes on in these cases.
People don’t do enough to help. They don’t push the police and investigators enough. They take their time trying to find the kid and lists of times miss the leads. They take too much time worrying about the parents in a kidnap case to actually really look. That ultimately leads into the kid not being found or the kid winding up dead when found. This film also showed how far a mother’s love for her child will go and I thought that was amazing. We also got to see all of the scenes where miss Carla asked people for help and they didn’t bother helping. That’s another reality too. Now if this were to happen in any other situation, the kid or the parent (or perhaps both) would end up dead. As funny as it is to see what’s essentially a soccer mom in a high-speed chase (if only there was a shot of a baby seat in the back of the minivan), logic would tell us that this premise would lead to some really bad results. Karla deserves credit for stopping at nothing to save her son – she thinks that if she waits, she’ll end up being one of those parents who’ll never see their lost child again. Fair enough, but by following the kidnappers she’s putting Frankie at even bigger risk. The narrative understands this, and we’re treated to a number of instances where the kidnappers open one of the doors to dangle the boy as a threat. Nothing like seeing children put into harm’s way to really boost the entertainment value! But it’s not just the writing that tries to keep the plot fresh. It’s difficult to maintain a chase for one scene let alone an entire film, and so Prieto and his team layer a number of cinematic tricks in an attempt to keeps us engaged. One of these is the use of choppy, inconsistent editing. Avi Youabian cuts the footage as though unsure of what tone they are going for. At one moment, shots come at us in rapid order like a blockbuster. Next, Prieto and Youabian hold on a shot like something you’d see in an art house theater. When Karla fears that she’s about to crash into another vehicle, shots are interspersed with black screens in a random blinking effect. I suppose this is meant to signify the disjointed feeling you get when involved in an accident, but that idea is never fully conveyed. Later on, in the aftermath of an actual crash, a shot is held suggesting that the actor is actually in the car, but then it cuts away at the very last second. Why hold the shot for that long if it just ends with you cutting away? In addition to its predictabilities, it’s got its share of frustrating moments in which Berry‘s character makes infuriatingly dumb decisions. (“Don’t get out of the car!” “Don’t put down the gun!” “Don’t go in there!”) Of course, that’s often part of the fun, especially if you’re seeing the film with a nice-sized crowd. Halle Berry (who is also one of the film’s producers) gives us a vulnerable intensity that she brought to the similarly-themed 2013 thriller ‘The Call’ & her performance is nothing short of perfect. You believe that, that is her child and she wants him back. Her performance is regulated mainly behind a steering wheel, and thus she relies on her facial expressions to keep us emotionally involved. Chris McGinn & Lew Temple are equally menacing. On the whole, ‘Kidnap’ is an exciting and emotional thriller which despite some B thriller clichés never stops being a fun watch!
Directed – Luis Prieto
Rated – R
Run Time – 81 minutes