A child being kidnapped is one of the most terrifying experiences ever. Not everyone has the skills of Liam Neeson in his “Taken” thrillers and most single moms are not secret agents, private eyes or even NCIS agents. However, they do have a particular set of skills: maternal instincts. Halle Berry delivers a convincing performance as that mom.
As Karla Dyson, Berry reaches deep into her emotional soul to deliver raw torment, fear and steadfast resilience. Inherently too sophisticated for the role of a greasy spoon waitress, we offer kudos to the costume and makeup departments for dressing this incredibly elegant thespian down for her part. However, as a real life mother of two, Berry admits those passions were not too much of a stretch for her role.
There are “wives-tales” of mothers somehow lifting the entire weight of a vehicle off their child, and it is well known that you never get between a mother bear and her cub. And, we choose to never get between a mom and the last pair of shoes at a sidewalk sale. When Karla catches a glimpse of her child’s abductors speeding away, she instinctively gives chase on foot and looses her cell phone in the scuffle.
Karla then hops in her mini-van and points it down the Louisiana highway in high speed pursuit. Never a cop in sight when you need one, and no access to her phone, Karla has no idea what to do next. Driving faster than residents on Canyon Lake Drive at 5 p.m., she is determined to not let that dilapidated Mustang out of her sight.
Spanish director Luis Prieto features a tight camera shot of Berry’s face almost the entire length of the picture as she “narrates” her feelings and ideas. Maybe not everybody talks to himself or herself to such an extreme, but we’ve all done it sometime. She explains, “It was a very different acting exercise, not having a scene partner to bounce off. It’s a very tricky thing to do.” The Academy Award winner makes it work quite effectively.
Up close and personal, we see the desperation in Karla’s eyes and facial expressions. Alone and scared, Karla is unwilling to pull over to simply report the crime while leaving the fate of her son’s life in someone else’s hands. She is now committed to stop at nothing in this race against time.
Toggling between raw emotion and sobering plan execution, she must keep her eyes on the road at unfamiliar breakneck speeds. This housewife is weaving her minivan through lanes of traffic at 80 mph. As we soon discover, the knuckle-dragging cretins are armed and experienced, but these rednecks are about as smart as a bag of rocks.
Berry credits director Prieto for allowing a woman emerge as a hero, but in a plausibly feminine way for an everyday soccer mom. Spoiler alert: Karla eventually wins the day and brings her kid home. The audience quickly figures that out, but the predictability that ruins other films makes this one work. Who wants to see a 90 plus minute chase, only to end on such a downer? The action, suspense and Karla’s persistence held our interest.
Make no mistake; this is a B-movie thriller in almost every way. Prieto thankfully inserts old-fashioned stunt work in place of CGI effects. We can and did second guess several of Karla’s moves, but wonder how many would do as well in a similar situation. The real question is how far would you go in a desperate situation for your child?
“Kidnap” is 94 minutes and rated R for violence and peril. This mostly one-woman thriller is filmed primarily with a close up on Berry’s face. It is an interesting experience that we hadn’t seen since 2004. It was our very first Reel People movie review, “Cellular” with a young, but talented Chris Evans (Captain America).
Halle Berry’s performance is worth the price of admission alone. There might not be enough meat in the script, but the story never drags. We don’t really expect the next automotive trend to be mag wheels and flames on Chrysler minivans, but you never know. Her best line reminds us of our own moms, “They messed with the wrong mother!”
Ron’s Rating: B Leigh’s Rating: B