Set in mid-1980s America with GOP President Reagan, the ex-California governor, in the White House, “Lou” is an action thriller film streaming on Netflix. Allison Janney plays Lou, the lead character, taciturn and violent.
By the end of the film, we see why the Janney character behaves this way. It is complex, to say the least.
On the surface, Lou is a no-nonsense property owner to a single parent, a role that Jurnee Smollett, who I first watched in “Eve’s Bayou,” handles well. The Smollett character is fiercely devoted to her daughter, the child actor Ridley Asha Bateman.
She is a kidnapping victim, who learns the survival technique of hiding to avoid danger. In fact, mother and daughter have coined a phrase that is shorthand for hiding time is now.
With her mother away to get the electricity back on during a storm, the child falls victim to a kidnapping. It is a plot device to unite the Janney and Smollett characters.
Together, they hunt for the kidnapped girl on a rainy island in the Pacific Northwest. From a production perspective, it must have been a heavy lift to film the characters traipsing through fallen branches, mud and water.
In that journey, actual and metaphorical, we learn that the Janney character has major personal and political baggage. Her irascibility is a kind of cover for this vulnerability, a heavy burden, as viewers discover.
She encapsulates the effects of multiple regrets in a line about how motherhood is (not) for every woman. Her revelation comes near the end of the movie, and to me amplifies a truth that also applies to Logan Marshall-Green, the girl’s kidnapper.
He is an ex-Green Beret, a heavy who plays his villainous role convincingly. It begins with a brutal killing of the Smollett character’s love interest.
By the film’s end, I had sympathy for the Marshall-Green character. Without giving away the storyline of “Lou,” this character probably experienced something like post-traumatic stress syndrome as a youngster.
In any event, PTSD left the Marshall-Green character a troubled and troubling adult. The unstated conclusion is that parenthood for some adults and not others extends to males, not just females.
Being a father is not for everyone. This should be common knowledge, but is not, unfortunately, with lord knows how many men dreaming they can care for kids when doing so for themselves is a challenge.
A soundtrack of popular songs from the 1970s and 1980s rocks the relationship between the characters in “Lou.” Toto’s “Africa” and “Hold the Line” are two such tunes.
If you enjoy a strong middle-age female lead who kicks ass and takes names, watch “Lou.” Janney, whose acting chops are beyond debate in movies such as “I, Tonya” and “The Help,” does not disappoint as an ex-CIA agent who worked in Iran when Uncle Sam disrupted that nation’s development.
That history is not a part of the curriculum. That omission speaks volumes about US culture.
Apparently, it is up to Hollywood to handle America’s past imperial actions against sovereign nations. Director Anna Foerster, with writers Maggie Cohn and Jack Stanley, take up that history hidden in plain sight from Americans.