/ 29 October 2022

One Film, Two Takes: LOU

Lou Na 15
Fierce: Allison Janney as plays the title role and Jurnee Smollett her tenant Hannah in an unlikely pairing as they set out to find Hannah’s daughter. Photo: Liane Hentscher/Netflix

Anna Foerster’s thriller Lou is the latest addition to the fast-growing subgenre of brooding 60+ actors who are secretly elite combatants. We’ve seen Liam Neeson do it in the Taken film series, Denzel Washington dons the hat in The Equalizer films and most recently, Bob Odenkirk gave his impression in the film Nobody. In Lou, Allison Janney grabs the mantle as a quiet and contemplative heroine, who lets on less than meets the eye, only to be revealed as a serious expert in the art of war.

Maggie Cohn, whose writing credits include the crime TV shows American Crime Story and Narcos: Mexico, along with Jack Stanley, handle the script in this tough-as-nails Netflix feature. Janney has given decades of brilliant acting in various roles — usually playing strong, assertive and loquacious women — and Lou affords her a chance to reinterpret what it means to be a strong female lead.

The quiet and reclusive Lou is a landowner in a close-knit coastal community in the Pacific Northwest. The story is set in the 1980s, complete with the nostalgic aesthetic of that time: 80s rock playing at garage sales, Ronald Reagan speeches on TV and run-down pick-up trucks as the main mode of transport. Lou keeps to herself and is friendly, if aloof, in the company of her beloved dog, Jax, but there’s clearly more to her beneath the surface.

When a dangerous storm engulfs the community a sinister sequence of events start to unravel. Lou’s financially struggling tenant, Hannah, has a young daughter with her menacing ex, Philip. He is a deranged, psychotic former Green Beret soldier-turned-war criminal, who Hannah thought was dead. His arrival threatens to disrupt the lives of Hannah and her daughter, and unleash a domino effect that reveals a side of Lou she was content burying in her backyard, along with all the other secrets that haunt her.

With the storm starting to rage on, Philip does something that forces Hannah to seek help from Lou, sparking the two to join forces to hunt down Philip. This new allegiance forces Lou to show her true combat mettle, unwittingly revealing her history as a highly skilled one-woman army not about to back down from a challenge that also serves as a way for her to repay the debts she feels she owes. Lou isn’t a bitter old landlady — she is the saving grace Hannah never knew she would need.

On one immediate level, Allison Janney is impressive in her physicality of the role. She handles Lou with compelling skill as a high-level fighter and survivalist who is believable in her capabilities. However, it is how deeply she exudes feelings of regret and a genuine desire for redemption that elevates her performance in this film. — Sekese Rasephei 

There’s an encouraging trend in Hollywood to shatter the ageism and sexism that remains in the industry. Often relegated to the “over-40” expiry pit, some of the world’s greatest female leads faced barriers from which their male counterparts are exempt. Lou adds to attempts to counter that misogynistic trend.

On one level, it’s the ultimate action-thriller feminist chick-flick, following in the strides of Pieces of Her and The Woman King, in which female warriors are just as violent, cunning and ruthless than their male adversaries. On this level, Lou succeeds as a taut and murderous ride.

Three of its four leading characters — award-winning actress Allison Janney, Jurnee Smollett and Ridley Asha Bateman — play women whose lives are intertwined through one man’s personal, tormented history.  And each actress excels in what must be one of the most physically gruelling performances of their careers.

Lou — performed with expert dourness by Janney — is an ageing, damaged recluse who drinks like a sailor, shoots to kill and wears her wounds like badges of honour. But her attempt to off herself is jettisoned by the kidnapping of Vee (Bateman), the daughter of Hannah (Smollett), Lou’s struggling tenant and a woman on the run from Philip, her abusive partner, performed by Logan Marshall-Green. The ensuing rescue quest tests their endurance and exposes secrets. So far so good. All endure jaw-dropping traumas, creating a relentless pace in which viewers are constantly expecting the worst possible scenarios. But that’s where the appeal ends.

Set in the late 1980s against the background of the Reagan era, director Anna Foerster has introduced a multitude of plot twists whose holes are as gaping as the wounds Lou inflicts. Foerster cut her directorial teeth on macho sci-fi and action adventures. And it shows. Despite some introspective moments, the film is bereft of nuances, character arcs and plot development. Foerster focuses instead on the violence — slickly choreographed and filmed against spectacular backdrops — but despite its cliff-hangers (literally), by the end, the audience is numb — the consequence of scares galore, blood and gore, but not enough meat.

In this otherwise positive feminist filmic wave that is providing long overdue roles and kudos to actresses approaching their golden years, the emancipated, even rough-hewn woman shouldn’t always need to become a “Rambo-Louna” to survive. That stereotype reinforces the cliché that to beat a man we must literally beat the crap out of him, speak his lexicon and emulate his game.  Hollywood’s leading ladies and Lou deserve so much better than the mere feminisation of a patriarchal trope. — Hazel Friedman