Reason: A storm rages. A young girl is kidnapped. Her mother teams up with the mysterious neighbor woman to pursue the kidnapper – a journey that tests their limits and reveals shocking secrets from their past.
Review: For every heavily marketed film that premieres on Netflix, there are dozens that fly under the radar. More often than not, these movies are throwaway shows designed to fill the selection Netflix has to offer, but every now and then there’s a solid movie worth paying attention to. Lou is an unexpected action film with an even more unexpected lead role from Oscar-winning actress Allison Janney, who will join Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, Bob Odenkirk and Joey King in John Wick school for action heroes. A good look back at action movies from the 80s and 90s, Lou is a gritty thriller that should be at the top of everyone’s streaming list this weekend.
The best know Lou is that the trailer doesn’t give too much of the plot away. Set in the 1980s, the film is about a single mother, Hannah (Jurnee Smollett), who lives with her daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman) on a remote island. Next door lives the gruff Lou Amell (Allison Janney), a survivalist whose only companion is her dog, Jax. One night, Vee is kidnapped by a man (Logan Marshall-Green), who forces Lou to help Hannah track down Vee and rescue her. Encountering some mercenaries along the way, Lou uses a range of combat skills that reveal elements of her past that she hasn’t shared in years. As a basic setup, Lou doesn’t have a story so unlike the countless action films that came before it, but it does add some twists to the formula that set this film apart.
At the top of the distinctions, there Lou coming to the table is Allison Janney. At 62, she is the most unlikely action figure in recent memory, and she pulls off some intense hand-to-hand combat sequences that are right up there with not only actresses half her age, but even many of her male counterparts. Janney has long been a phenomenal dramatic and comedic actor, but in Lou she channels all her skills plus new dimensions we’ve never seen from her. Lou as a character is similar in ways to Jeff Bridges’ recent role in the FX series The Old Man, which featured the acclaimed actor playing a cinematic creation in a realistic way. Janney will never measure up John Wick or Atomic blonde but rather plays a character whose skills are believable and realistic in a story that is grounded rather than over the top.
It also helps with that Lou don’t try to create stakes that are ridiculous. Yes, the story requires some suspension of disbelief, but rather than involving crime syndicates or villains bent on worldwide domination, Lou focuses on a specific set of characters and circumstances that play directly into the 1980s time period. Janney works well with Jurnee Smollett, who has turned in a number of solid turns in HBO’s Lovecraft Country and the latest Netflix movie Spiderhead. Here she never appears as an obstacle to the plot, but holds her own as a mother who would do anything to save her child. Logan Marshall-Green is equally good as the damaged antagonist whose past is integral to the plot of the story. The vast majority of this film is these three characters, which help the story feel more immediate and more impactful.
Produced by JJ Abrams and Bad Robot, Lou is the first screenplay from Maggie Cohn (American Crime Story, The Staircase) and Jack Stanley, channeling familiar action tropes into a script that never feels clichéd or formulaic. At first, I kept expecting the movie to turn into every other revenge or chase movie I had seen before, but it continued to surprise me throughout. A lot of credit goes to director Anna Foerster for that. While Foerster has directed several television series such as Westworld and Jessica Jonesher only film credit is on Underworld: Blood Wars. Foerster has worked on every film Roland Emmerich has made since Independence Day, so she has a good handle on acting. Lou never rises to the level of an Emmerich-scale film, but the cinematography here makes excellent use of the dreary Pacific Northwest setting and limits special effects work to only necessary moments.
Lou is a fast-paced action film that manages to keep the pace going and never slow down. This is a movie that could have been a surprise hit in theaters in the pre-COVID era, but is now a great movie for the millions with Netflix at their disposal. Allison Janney has now proven that there is absolutely nothing she can’t do when it comes to acting and has given one of her strongest performances in Lou. I’d be shocked if this movie didn’t get a lot of talk about putting Janney in more roles like this and maybe even exploring more of this character in an ongoing franchise. As an independent, Lou is a lot of fun and one of the best Netflix originals in a long time.