Lila & Eve full movie review - Taut Vigilante Thriller That Comes Across as Better Than it Should Solely Because of Viola Davis' Mesmeric
Reviewed by: Dare Devil Kid (DDK)
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Viola Davis is a formidable presence in "Lila & Eve", playing the grieving mother of a teenage son killed in a drive-by shooting by a drug gang. Lila's (Davis) grief is a pain that no parent should ever experience, and Davis plumbs the depths of that anguish in a stern, electrifying performance that transforms the film into something far beyond a mundane revenge thriller. While on the surface "Lila & Eve" resembles a grief-stricken mom picking up a gun and wreaking vengeance on the men responsible for her son's death, the movie has much more in mind than purveying violent thrills. "Lila & Eve" feels like Viola Davis' "Still Alice". In a just world, this deeply compassionate and politically relevant revenge fantasy would do for Davis what last year's Alzheimer's odyssey did for Julianne Moore: deliver a long overdue Oscar to one of the finest actresses of our generation.
Lila's grief is fueled not only by the fact her 18-year-old son, Stephon (Aml Ameen), has been shot down in the street, but also by the apathy displayed by the cops assigned the case. Coming at a time when "black lives matter" has become a national rallying cry, Lila's plight is particularly relevant as it portrays a situation in which the police form a task force to probe the slaying of a white cheerleader but the lead detective (Shea Whigham) on Stephon's case has trouble even remembering the young man's name.
Though the current #BlackLivesMatter movement rightly focuses on the lives cut short by police brutality, it has yet to bring the pandemic emotional devastation of communities losing their children en masse to mainstream consciousness. (This is in part due to how news institutions debate the guilt of each young black man after his death ? a distraction from the individual and collective trauma such losses engender.) Though the fatal drive-by shooting that incites "Lila and Eve's" plan for vengeance has nothing to do with the police, it's the cops' eager willingness to dismiss 18-year-old Stephon's (Aml Ameen) death as just another unsolvable casualty in the drug-turf wars ? and by extension his mother's desperate need for justice ? that sets the fast-moving plot into motion. Almost a month after her older son's killing, Lila is unable to embrace the agenda of acceptance, forgiveness and baked goods of her grieving mothers' support group. She quickly gravitates toward the group's one other dissident, Eve (Jennifer Lopez, much deglamorized), who recognizes in her new friend the roiling but unexpressable blood- lust Stephon's death has begotten. The movie is at its most emotionally wrenching in scenes filmed in a support group for moms who have lost children to gang violence. It's there that Lila meets Eve and is urged by her new friend to avenge her son.
The movie's familiar thriller aspects are nowhere near as compelling as the two women's angry rejection of the unbearable powerlessness they've been told isn't just their lot to bear, but the right way to respond to their grief. Lila needs to do something other than clean her house to regain a sense of control over her life, and being around the trigger-happy Eve is at least preferable to spending time with those who tell her to take comfort in the fact that she still has another child. "As if I'd had a son to spare," Lila hisses. Director Charles Stone III ("Drumline") and screenwriter Pat Gilfillan mine complexity from the two women's sorrow, as when the they justify murder with their own version of feminism.
Their first revenge killing is accidental if justified; Eve shoots a gangbanger just as he pulls out his own revolver. "He's somebody's child," stammers a shocked Lila, but she's all too susceptible to Eve's urgings that they threaten and kill their way up the local drug operation's hierarchy to figure out who exactly is responsible for Lila's son's death. When the two women eventually corner the kingpin (Chris Chalk) who ordered the hit on Stephon, he mocks Lila's pain by laying the blame for her son's death on her: "if she had been a better mother, her firstborn son would still be alive," he says. "Or maybe," he winks, "it's just society's fault." Whoever we should hold responsible, the film makes clear, culpability isn't as simple as whoever pulled the trigger.
Understated, naturalistic, gut-wrenching, and wholly real, Davis is spellbinding as a woman who surprises even herself by how much rage and darkness she has inside her. Lopez's character is the more challenging one in some senses, for the film's tonal consistency largely depends on Eve's temptress role. The supporting actress occasionally seems more like an id-fueled sprite than a real person, but a late twist satisfactorily reveals why Eve is so sociopathically unbothered by the murders they commit.
Though more conflicted about their killing spree, Lila too has her moral compass broken by anguish that affects her far more than she had realized was possible. The movie unexpectedly shades into the surreal as the two women unleash their wrath on a variety of gangsters, but through it all Davis' portrayal of a mother's pain, moving from hopelessness and despair to revenge and regret, gives the picture its impressive power. Though a standard-issue vigilante thriller on the surface, "Lila & Eve" is also a profound portrait of loss without recourse or justice, and thus an important depiction of a state in which too many people suffer today without much being done about it.