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Peppermint

Peppermint

It's like they had to literalise the white saviour metaphor...

dir: Pierre Morel

2018

From a flick about a guy interacting with Mexican people and saying “eh, they’re not all so bad”, the flick being The Mule and the guy being Clint Eastwood, we now transition to a flick that, were it a person, looked at The Mule and screamed “NOT RACIST ENOUGH” and proceeded to render itself into a form that would be most pleasing to people who were leaving a Trump klan rally and thought they might want to watch a movie.

Peppermint is a revenge – vigilante thriller which, in and of itself, is not unique to American cinema, since every culture has its themes of vengeance and justice. But this is the quintessential American take on the genre, which celebrates self-determination, stick-to-itiveness and achieving justice through the barrel of a gun against racial caricatures that are meant to make the viewer uncomfortable until they are shot, and then everything’s fine

There’s a reason the Republican party uses photos and footage of members of a particular vicious gang called MS-13 in its scare-mongering electoral ad campaigns: because they’re Hispanic, and many of them have face tattoos.

There’s a reason why the movie uses Hispanic men with face tattoos as the perpetrators of violence, and then as the victims of retributive violence at the hands of the movie’s heroine: because the intended audience is already made uncomfortable by them and doesn’t mind if they get offed.

They’re not people, after all, they’re animals, as a certain administration asserts.

And lest you think Our Heroine Riley (Jennifer Garner) only kills Mexicans or El Salvadorans or Guatemalans over the course of the movie, she also kills a few Anglos, being those in law enforcement or even the judiciary who are corrupt and who side with the cartel that murdered her family.

That’s right! Those bastards murdered her husband and daughter in cold blood, and then they didn’t even go to jail because of corruption, and there was no way she was going to let that slide.

No, the only justice is with them, hanging by their feet like Mussolini, from the Ferris wheel at the carnival where she lost her family.

Riley goes from being a bank manager to being Sarah Conner from the early Terminator films, which to many people might seem like a bit of a stretch, but Garner did play six seasons as a superspy on the TV series Alias, so maybe we’re meant to accept that she went from working suburban mom to kill craving cyborg in a few easy steps because…maybe the experiences carry over between roles.

I have no difficulty enjoying watching Jennifer Garner fight and kill people in this. She was great as Sydney Bristow in Alias, and her physicality also worked well in the Daredevil flick and Elektra as that character of the same name – both much maligned flicks, the second one especially, but it’s not like it was her fault. And even more unfortunate for her, that’s when her alliance with Ben Affleck began.

Now, having Ben Affleck as your husband probably isn’t, in total, as bad as having your family murdered by a Mexican gang. But being betrayed by that alcoholic even after having to probably sit through early cuts of Batman Versus Superman and Justice League, and having to pretend that your husband isn’t terrible in terrible movies, was probably the last agonising straw.

It's not inconceivable that the protagonist imagines not the tattooed faces on the torsos of her enemies as she shoots, stabs and punches her ways through the horde, flood, caravan of Hispanics, if you will, but Ben Affleck’s head on their torsos instead. You can see that, couldn’t you, you can almost feel it.

The main bad guy Garcia, whose first name is probably Diego, making me wonder if he has a cousin called Dora, is irredeemably bad, as you would imagine, and doesn’t possess a single feature that isn’t marinated in some presumably salsa-like spices. While he thinks of himself as the godfather, as a fearsome and powerful figure in American crime, he’s just a lackey for the cartel’s hierarchy down south. There’s always someone above him or below him telling him he ain’t shit.

And it doesn’t help that Riley has somehow acquired a Special Forces / CIA level of tradecraft in order to bring him and his organisation down by whatever means necessary. She can do surveillance and tracking, she can tussle with the best and the worst of them, and, as is common to these stories, has a supernatural ability to come back from pain and severe wounds and still keep on revenging or protecting young children of colour.

But it’s not all fairy floss and torture. She’s also, it appears later in the flick, become a guardian angel on Skid Row where the homeless congregate in great numbers. So, in between killing predominately Hispanic criminals to avenge her family, she has at least temporarily made Skid Row a slightly safer place for the various deranged and homeless children, and is worshipped for being the White Saviour that she truly is.

I’m not really intelligent or competent or arrogant enough to explain the number of layers of bullshit in all of that, in the calculated way in which the screenplay tries and fails to either make sense or maintain some strange maternal image of her to counterbalance the murders and stuff. Because, let’s not fuck around with this topic; in almost all cases she’s flat out murdering people. Even the ones where you could argue it’s self-defensive somehow, when you stroll into someone’s drug place wanting to kill the peoples therein, and then they attack you and you start killing them, it’s still murder. And yet show her being motherly to a pair of street kids, and she must be Mother fucking Theresa.

But the way to water down what should be the poisonous aftertaste of this style of Americana, as American as apple pie, is to make sure the ones being offed are sufficiently Other to the audience such that no-one’s really going to feel that bad considering that a) she already murdered the specific people who murdered her family, b) in order to justify killing everyone else as well, you need to REALLY expand the notion of ‘justice’ or justifiable revenge, a notion that doesn’t exist in law in order to incorporate everyone associated with the head honcho as well.

At least, since this pops up in so many other films and TV series, at the very least in a film like Sicario, when the protagonist finally got to confront the head of a cartel that they’d been after since their family had been killed, when given the choice of just killing the head honcho, or brutally murdering their wife and kids in front of him first, the flick said “Fuck it, this guy is not a hero, he’s just a cold blooded sociopath that wants complete and absolute revenge”. The film didn’t want or need to mollify the audience or trick them into thinking one set of murdering is fine, the other set of murdering is naughty. It’s all butchery.

Here they even go so fucking far as to have the cops, or a cop in particular (notably of Hispanic extraction, so as to make sure we’re not reinforcing the notion that the LAPD is a white supremacist organisation or nothing) be complicit in her crimes and even actually help her, in case you were conflicted about whether she was on the side of the angels or not.

It’s all bad, it’s all unjustifiable, the fact that the audience sides with the protagonist is not because they’re righteous, it’s not because of morals or a sense of justice: it’s because people want to marinate, luxuriate, revel in the idea that if someone sufficiently wronged them, they, too, would hunt down the villains and kill them most bloodily. It is a fantasy as fundamental to America as the love of guns. Changing the gender of the protagonist isn’t really that much of a change-up, because Death Wish, the Charles Bronson murder fantasy that started all this stuff off, is the same no matter who’s pulling the trigger, as long as the protagonist is white and right.

All that being said I’d always rather watch a competent woman do the work when a job needs doing, because I’ve seen enough men do the same crap endlessly. In the same way when I hear people complain about women’s sports, the fact is I don’t really care to watch sport at all, but if I was going to, I’d way prefer to watch women playing, because who hasn’t seen enough grunting guys slam into each other likes sides of sentient beef to last a life time?

Pierre Morrel is someone who took over making movies from Luc Besson for all of France and who achieves a similar workmanlike approach when it comes to having people fight and kill each other onscreen. He made Taken, that other fantasy for older dads who wanted to imagine themselves killing their (much younger ethnic) enemies on the streets of France in order to defend their daughter’s honour.

Here he achieves as little or as much as his masters intended. In the amount it changes up or in terms of something new it tries to give us, there’s very little there, if you don’t like watching Jennifer Garner kill people.

5 times people need to remember what being married to Ben Affleck will do to a person out of 10

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“ I can hear the pain in your voice. You're hurting. You're hurting bad. Out-manned, out-gunned. How you really think this is gonna go?
- “I'm gonna shoot you in your fucking face. And then I'll pretty much figure it out from there.” – it’s nice to have a plan - Peppermint

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