After the murder of her estranged son, a journalist forms an unlikely alliance with his pregnant girlfriend to track down those responsible. Together, they confront a world of drugs and corruption in the underbelly of a small city.
All the elements for an effective murder mystery seem to be in place in Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s “The Good Mother,” yet they never truly come together. An intriguing lead character, a death that hits close to home and an implied secret with far-reaching complications whet the viewers’ appetite, all setting up what could have been an edge-of-your-seat thriller with a clever twist ending. Unfortunately, screenwriters Madison Harrison and Joris-Peyrafitte get lazy during the third act, hard-to-believe narrative beats taking the place of clever writing.
Hilary Swank is Marissa, a cynical reporter whose worn appearance is evidence of the many trials she’s had to endure. Widowed, her reliable son, Toby (Jack Raynor), has become a police officer. And while this would give any parent gray hair, her other boy Mikey (Madison Harrison) has been battling drug addiction and has fallen in with a bad crowd. Marissa’s worst fears are realized when Toby informs her his sibling has been found dead, the victim of a shooting.
Marissa’s investigative instincts kick in and instead of dwelling on her anger or grief, she sets out to find the culprit. However, her ire has no bounds when it comes to Paige (Olivia Cooke), Mikey’s pregnant girlfriend, who she blames for her son’s troubles. Desperate to help, the young woman ingratiates herself on the grieving mother, who allows her to live with her, if for no other reason, then to perhaps get clues as to who killed her son.
This setup is sound, the film’s first half moving at a brisk pace, each plot point intriguing enough to make me resist the urge to go to the kitchen for more potato chips. And then…well, things just get out of hand. You have to give every film a bit of rope, allow for one, maybe two things to occur that might not necessarily hold narrative water in order for the story to move along. Of course, every viewer’s patience varies on this point, some accepting any nonsensical that occurs, others checking out at the sign of any incongruity.
Madison Harrison and Joris-Peyrafitte hope you’ll overlook some real whoppers, events that call the logic of the story and certain characters into question. Like anyone, I like a good plot twist, but it must be gotten to honestly. Seeds must be planted unobtrusively along the way for them to bloom into a plausible narrative switcheroo. Unfortunately, the writers here hope the viewer won’t question the surprises they spring on us, blindly accepting their faulty logic.
The cast deserves much better, their work uniformly fine. Swank is one of our finest film actors yet the choices she’s made of late would suggest she’s not getting offers worthy of her talent. Her last film credit was 2020’s horrible noir thriller “Fatale,” while her solid tv series “Alaska Daily” was only given 11 episodes to find an audience before cancellation. She carries a haunted look about her here that conveys more than a rambling monologue or two, as she provides Marissa with a dogged determination that’s admirable yet self-destructive. Raynor and Cooke shine as well, both young actors on their way to becoming veterans whose names you look for with interest.
Had ”Mother” been made in the 40’s or 50’s, I can see it as a black-and-white film noir, shadows dominating the urban setting, suggestive of the dark secrets its characters carry, thin beams of light suggesting slivers of hope, all suffused with clouds of cigarette and suggestive glances. But alas, what we’re treated to instead is a desperate exercise that’s not nearly as clever as it thinks it is.