Directed by Charles Stone III. Produced by Sara Risher and Darrin Reed. Written by Patrick Gilfillan. Release date: July 17, 2015.
They say that there’s no greater love than that of a mother for her children. So, it makes sense that when a child is murdered, a mother would want revenge. That’s essentially the premise of Lila & Eve, which sees Lila (Viola Davis) team up with Eve (Jennifer Lopez) to track down the person or people behind the murder of Stephon (Aml Ameen), Lila’s son. Yes, we’re doing a vigilante mothers movie. We see vigilante movies all the time – relatively, at least – but I can’t think of the last time two mothers were given the task.
Not only are our two leads women – and women who are over the age of 40 – but they’re also non-white. A bland Jason Statham revenge-thriller can open in thousands of theaters, while Lila & Eve gets a limited theatrical and simultaneous VOD release. But, no, we don’t have a problem. It’s made even worse by Lila & Eve being better than most of these types of movies, too. It’s still not great, but by actually attempting to engage its viewers intellectually – as well as delivering something we don’t often see – it stands out among the crowd and may very well be worth seeing, something that cannot be said all that often with these types of movies. What was the last good vigilante movie? Machete? No, wait: Hobo with a Shotgun. (Note: The correct answer is John Wick.)
Like … actually, both of the non-parenthetical films I just mentioned, Lila & Eve draws attention to the way that certain types of citizens aren’t treated the same as others, whether due to race or class. Stephon is black, so you can bet that his case is going to receive much less attention than that of a white cheerleader – at least, this is what the film posits. Whether or not you agree with the statement, it’s going to get you thinking. Lila & Eve at least tries to engage your intellect, which is more than a lot of these films even attempt to do.
However, because our brains are being engaged, it’s much tougher for the film to pull a fast one on us, which it tries to do with a mid-film twist that I can’t see people not figuring out before it’s revealed. It’s supposed to be this big turn, but it doesn’t actually change a whole lot in the story, and it’s so easy to see coming that one has to wonder why the filmmakers even bothered. For the shock value, I assume, but it doesn’t even succeed in that regard. It’s perfunctory, unnecessary, and distracting.
By actually attempting to engage its viewers intellectually, it stands out among the crowd.
About the only thing the twist does is reinforce the primary topic of the film, which is the loss of a child. How badly does it affect the psyche of a parent? How important is support in a time of grieving? And, finally: Is getting revenge actually worth it? Like I said, this is a smarter vigilante movie than the rest of the pack.
It’s also elevated by its cast, in particular Viola Davis. The two-time Oscar nominee takes what is decidedly the lead role, and in doing so instantly elevates the material. Her grieving mother is truly devastating to watch, even though there are moments of levity. The complexity with which she approaches each decision is remarkable. Jennifer Lopez acts as the id of the duo, almost gleefully approaching the situations that cause Davis’ character such trouble. They work as a good team, and the two have a surprising amount of chemistry together. They make watching their quests for revenge enjoyable.
The revenge itself isn’t all that great, but it almost comes across as secondary when looking at the film as a whole. The build-up is more exciting than seeing Davis and Lopez threaten various gangsters as they work their way up the totem pole. These scenes are often too similar to one another to be terribly entertaining. But watching Davis struggle with her day-to-day life, or even watching the two leading ladies plan what the next step is, is lots of fun. That sounds like the reverse of how it should work, but this is why we actually watch the movies instead of evaluating them on paper.
Bottom Line: Lila & Eve is a passable vigilante movie whose merits come from its cast and its intellect.
Recommendation: Lila & Eve is not exactly a home run, but it deserves to be watched, especially if you’re looking for a smarter vigilante movie.[rating=3]
If you want more of Matthew “Marter” Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet and check out his weekly movie podcast.