A tense and exciting film, "Lila and Eve" is directed by Charles Stone III and tells the story of Lila (Academy Award nominee Viola Davis), a grief-stricken mother who in the aftermath of her son’s murder in a drive-by shooting attends a support group where she meets Eve (Jennifer Lopez), who has lost her daughter. When Lila hits numerous roadblocks from the police in bringing justice for her son’s slaying, Eve urges Lila to take matters into her own hands to track down her son’s killers. The two women soon embark on a violent pursuit of justice, as they work to the top of the chain of drug dealers to avenge the murder of Lila’s son.
With street violence at an all-time high across America, it’s a timely subject to address losing a child to gangs and guns. But it’s also such a delicate issue that if not approached correctly, it can be seen as grossly inappropriate. I recently watched Chi-Raq which gave street violence a blunt dose of drama and satire that really made you think about the current state of unrest. In comparison, Lila & Eve feels like a shameless cash-in for lukewarm drama.
At first, the story of Lila (Viola Davis) and her grief is played straight. She loses one of her two sons to a drive-by shooting and finds herself in a support group to deal with it. But when she meets the stubborn and eagerly vengeful of Eve (Jennifer Lopez), the plot shifts into Death Wish mode. The police are no help and nobody will talk about the gang activity that led to her son’s death. When Lila discovers a gun in her late son’s backpack, she takes it as a sign to go out and shoot drug dealers for answers with Eve.
The prospect of female-led Death Wish picture is rather tantalizing, but it never achieves that level of grit and ugly vigilantism. Lila’s rampage is very simple: stalk a drug dealer, threaten to shoot if they don’t give information, receive information, shoot the dealer and repeat. There’s an attempt to say something meaningful about the hatred of street violence and the inept nature of police handling these messy situations, but nothing that develops past a quiet rant here and there. Even the drama plays out by the book with Lila’s life being amazingly happy before the shooting and miserably bleak after.
But the picture becomes the most insulting with a Shyamalan-style twist thrown into the third act. I suppose it was intended as a genuine surprise, but it comes off as a desperate attempt to keep the story interesting. I can’t blame the filmmakers too much for this choice considering it did break up the monotony of the story which never develops anything fruitful. It’s a twist that doesn’t change the plot or make it any better, but the silliness of its inclusion does make it a more entertaining mediocre movie.
This is a picture I’d like to recommend given its touches of B-movie vigilantism, but that mantle is just out of reach for Lila & Eve. It could have reached such a level if it didn’t weigh itself down with watered down, Lifetime movie drama. If it only had the guts to go straight with revenge rather than lament longer on flashbacks of her son, Lila could have had a unique journey as the gun-toting revenge mama. The scenes where she tracks down scumbags with Eve are when Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez are at their best. They make quite the duo with their stakeout dialogue and no-nonsense assaults. There’s a bit of monologuing during these scenes that go on longer than expected, but it’s at least better written than the dialogue that hopelessly attempts to garner tears of sympathy.
The performances of Davis and Lopez prevent Lila & Eve from being a complete disaster of a revenge drama. They commit themselves well to the roles of angry women seeking retribution even if the writing doesn’t match their acting. It’s a story too adrift of ideas by the end in how it absurdly tries to wrap it all up with a neat bow. Bloody revenge doesn’t deserve such a simple resolution, especially for such timely subject matter.
You rated this film: 2
Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Classification is to be confirmed by the British Board of Film Classification
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