Lou is a moody, visually-striking and fierce action-orientated crime drama thriller in the tradition of Taken. In a similar move to Liam Neeson and so many others in his wake, Alison Janney reinvigorates her mostly dramatic acting career with a surprising new genre: action. Audiences have grown accustomed to this subgenre where older actors show they’ve still got it with a renaissance by jumping into the fiery unknown. Neeson’s raspy speech in Taken has become his all-access pass for the actor who has essentially become a figurehead for this action-later-life concept. It’s become such a regular gig for Neeson that it’s becoming difficult to distinguish these veteran action star vehicles apart from one another.
While Liam Neeson has racked up a satisfying collection of these Taken-esque action thrillers over the years, it’s still refreshing for a female lead such as Alison Janney to headline Lou. As refreshing as it is, Lou could’ve easily been written with Liam Neeson in mind. Similar to his role in The Marksman, Lou becomes a protector and avenger, risking everything in an attempt to save the day. Living in a remote area, keeping to herself in a bid to make peace with her past… Lou has a few parallels as a tough yet mysterious character with a few dark secrets.
Instead of being pursued by a drug cartel, it’s up to the free-spirited Lou and a desperate mother to track down her kidnapped daughter when she goes missing in the middle of a storm. The rescue mission finds them on the trail of a dangerous, estranged and wanted man who will stop at nothing to exact his revenge. Tracing his steps through the rain-drenched forest region of the island, the unlikely duo begin to discover they’re wanting to recover the girl for very different reasons.
Alison Janney commands presence, takes up space and is an excellent choice to play the versatile Lou. Gruff, surly and her own person, Janney’s dramatic heft anchors the role and the film with enough swagger and street smarts. She’s ably supported by Jurnee Smollett, a rising star who becomes a political pawn in the rescue operation as a single mother who rises up to face her demons. Rounding off the trio is Logan Marshall-Green, a charming villain and madman whose entertaining performance is reminiscent of and could’ve been played by Tom Hardy or Jon Bernthal.
“We’re not in Kansas anymore… but I can hear Toto.”
Directed by White House Down’s cinematographer Anna Foerster, Lou starts with aplomb, giving us a quick tour of the character’s independent streak, hunting experience and fearless attitude. Set in the ’80s, there are nostalgic cues and throwback references that give it another layer of texture – besides enabling a revival of the ’80s rock sensation ‘Toto’. Crisp visuals, moody scene-setting and some fairly grisly outback moments grab one’s attention as Lou’s spirit catches fire. Counterbalancing her rugged vibrations is Smollett as Hannah, who requires a mentor to slowly unpack the fight within her. This moxie and quick-paced storytelling helps compel Lou as the breadcrumb trail starts adding up to take on greater meaning.
While visually-captivating, rich in nostalgia and character-driven, Lou’s stumbling stone is its wishy-washy storytelling. The nothing-to-lose set up creates a wonderful platform to activate a self-sufficient character into an act of altruism. However, the situation just seems overly complicated when you take a step back. Lou hinges on a major twist yet the overriding story lacks foundational grounding and clear objectives. This muddy storytelling keeps the character dynamics in a state of evolution but there’s a non-sensical undercurrent, which amounts to a lack of big picture forethought and bulletproof planning.
Lou has a fresh lead, impassioned performances, spirited characters, a mysterious setting, a throwback soundtrack and features some moody and pristine filmmaking. Unfortunately, as entertaining as it is… its fundamental story problems and overcomplicated plotting work against its valiant attempts to ground the scenario. Lou’s flair and style make for compelling viewing but apart from the conviction of its performances and anchoring lead, things devolve to the point that the whole song and dance seems muddled and even unnecessary with hints of a sequel in the wings.
The bottom line: Fierce