Cast: Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr. , John Ortiz, Juan Pablo Raba
Director: Pierre Morel
Genre: Action, Thriller
Running Time: 102 minutes
Synopsis: Riley North was living a happy and uneventful suburban life with her husband Chris and 10 year-old-daughter Carly. While they may have been struggling to make ends meet their lives were filled with laughter and love. Baited by the idea of a quick moneygrab that could ease their financial burden, Riley's husband Chris is pulled into a potential "business" opportunity involving local members of a powerful drug cartel. Questioning the morality of his prospective actions, Chris ultimately backs out, but this brief flirtation with the criminal underworld leads to a deadly retaliation that alters the course of their lives forever.
During an evening out to celebrate Carly's 10th birthday at a holiday carnival, Riley and her family are viciously gunned down, taking the lives of both Chris and Carly and leaving Riley in a coma barely clinging to life.
After waking in the hospital to the horrific reality that her family is gone, Riley works with the LAPD to positively identify the shooters. A trial takes place, and despite her eyewitness testimony, the charges are dropped. The killers walk, the result of a collaboration between dirty cops and corrupt judges under the thumb of the cash-rich drug cartel. In a moment, Riley's former life falls away and she is consumed with the need to do what the "justice' system wouldn't do… she sets out to transform herself from ordinary citizen to vigilante.
Channeling her anger into personal motivation, she spends years in hiding honing mind, body and spirit to become an unstoppable force, eluding the underworld, the LAPD and the FBI, as she systematically delivers her own personal brand of justice.
Release Date: December 13th, 2018
Upon their first reading of a new-to-marketplace original screenplay entitled Peppermint, producers Tom Rosenberg and Gary Lucchesi of Lakeshore Entertainment were captivated by the journey of one woman's dramatic transformation from ordinary woman to justice-seeking vigilante. Recognizing the notable absence of engaging films with a strong female protagonist at the center, they knew they had to act fast. After receiving the script on a Thursday, they made an offer on Friday and the project was theirs by Monday.
"We knew we had to close the deal as quickly as possible so I called the head of the agency on a Saturday, which I don't often do, and pushed to close the deal Saturday night," recalls producer Gary Lucchesi. "By Monday morning three or four other studios wanted it, but thankfully we recognized it was prescient that we act aggressively."
The screenplay, written by Chad St. John (London Has Fallen), was especially appealing because of the filmmaker attached. Accomplished action director Pierre Morel, who launched the Taken franchise and single-handedly re-defined the perception of the action hero, was attached to direct. "I was looking for a female-driven action movie and found the idea compelling," says Morel. "For me, it's all about the emotional journey, there's no reason for the action if there's no emotional motivation behind it."
Morel was fascinated by the themes explored in the story and how experiencing extreme emotional trauma can be transformative. "Riley's not what you always expect from a hero in movies where they were often something else before, a spy or a military operator or something. She was just a regular woman and the trauma she experiences changes her into something else, a woman focused on justice. Trying to figure out how a regular human being reacts when hit with such a dramatic and brutal situation was compelling to me."
It seemed an organic continuation of his prior films. "In a way it is a continuation of Taken but with a female protagonist. I think it's about time," says Morel. With a heroine at its center, Peppermint offered an opportunity to celebrate a protagonist not typically seen leading an action film. Producer Tom Rosenberg explains, "The script was smart and unflinching and had a great centerpiece role for an actress. We were looking for someone the audience would root for and who better than Jennifer Garner?"
"I loved that it was an original story and an action film with a woman as the lead character, the significance of which I do not take lightly," recounts actress Jennifer Garner, who jumped at the opportunity to play the fierce protagonist. Garner continues, "I've never had the chance to explore that kind of visceral need to defend or protect my family in a film, but the concept was something I could easily connect with."
The intense physicality of the role gave Garner the opportunity to build on her extensive action pedigree after a lengthy break from fight and stunt choreography. After years as super-agent Sydney Bristow on the wildly popular television series, "Alias" and action-heavy feature films such as Elektra and The Kingdom, Garner's focus shifted to more dramatic work. Ready to make a return to action, playing Riley offered Garner the opportunity to challenge herself in ways that combined both her dramatic and action experience, something she felt ready to do. "I hadn't filmed a fight sequence for over eleven years, which is a long time to hang up your action chops and try to pull it back together, but I knew I could do it. It was the connection to the physical that helped me channel Riley's desperation and the emotional motivation behind her need for revenge," explains Garner.
"Because Jennifer is a mother herself, she was able to tap into the emotional chords of her character Riley. The love a mother has for her child is fierce, like a mother lion who will protect her young until the very end," argues Lucchesi.
The filmmakers knew that audiences were clamoring for Garner's return to the genre. "This role feels like it came at the exact right moment in her life, she truly is that kind and committed Mom who lives for her family and has a deep connection to the emotion of the story. That connection helps us believe that after such terrible loss someone could snap and come back as somebody else and basically take out everybody involved," laughs Morel.
Riley's motivation and methodology are atypical within the revenge thriller genre and flips the definition of the action hero on its' head. The film raises questions of the moral complexities surrounding the concept of justice.
"Vigilante justice is interesting from a social perspective," argues producer Richard Wright. "You don't want to see vigilantes going around exacting their own justice, but there are certainly a lot of people out there that deserve better protection than what the law provides. Granted, this is a movie and because we are in a fictionalized world we can take it to an extreme, but the basic threads of all of this are in society everywhere and every day."
At the heart of the film is the debate of the difference between revenge and justice and where humanity exists between the two. It asks what would you do with unimaginable loss in the face of blatant corruption? "I don't know if this version of justice fills the hollowness in Riley's soul," argues Garner. "At our very first meeting Pierre and I discussed whether or not revenge is ever appropriate and questioned if what Riley is doing is ok," says Garner. "It's an interesting and complicated subject to explore within the fictional narrative of an action film."
"Revenge is a very dark engine that never pays and doesn't bring anybody back. But for Riley it's more justice than revenge. She is executing a form of justice that actual justice wasn't able to provide, debating whether it's good or bad is part of what makes it compelling," notes Morel.
Setting Peppermint apart from the typical action fare is Riley's practice of targeted vengeance with minimal collateral damage. She has a list of names and goes to great effort to limit her wrath to only those on her list. Morel points out that, "Riley doesn't kill for the sake of killing. She actually wants to see justice done for this so it never happens again. Hurting innocent people in the process is not even an option, she strictly wants to take out the guys who did her harm."
Riley's plan to single-handedly take down members of a powerful drug cartel, corrupt members of law enforcement and the corrupt participants from the judicial wing is essentially a suicide mission, one she accepts whole-heartedly. "Riley embraces the journey and doesn't expect to get out of this alive. In her mind she will be reunited with her family knowing that those who harmed her will not harm anybody else," comments Morel.
About The Story
Society finds its structure in a shared value system that provides balance. We hold on to the tenants and ideals that good people are rewarded for good deeds and bad deeds aren't left unpunished. In Peppermint, society and the criminal justice system fail Riley North.
After Chris North backs out of an illegal cash-grab opportunity presented by a shady friend, local drug cartel kingpin Jonas Garcia's revenge is swift and ruthless. While out celebrating Carly's birthday, Riley's family is viciously gunned down in a ganglandstyle drive-by leaving her husband and daughter dead and Riley critically injured and barely breathing.
Upon waking from her coma, Riley is ready to identify the shooters and clings to belief that justice will be served. "Riley watches this happen right in front of her, she sees the people that killed her family. When she wakes up she is eager to identify them and expects the killers to be brought to justice," says Garner.
Regardless of her eyewitness testimony, the drug cartel's influence is far-reaching within a corrupt system with deep pockets and an extensive web of conspirators. With so many on the take, justice never stood a chance. Something inside Riley snaps as she watches the killers go free. "The judge, the lawyer and the police are all on the wrong side of the law and the glaring injustice makes her lose her mind," Garner explains. "That she would lose her daughter and husband and the realization that nobody is willing to do anything about it makes her crazy. She shuts down her emotions, goes into hiding and spends the next five years preparing."
Riley drops off the grid without a trace and begins to rebuild herself with a singular purpose, to serve justice on her own terms. She spends the next few years molding herself into a wildly proficient, stone-cold assassin with expertise in martial arts, explosives and all manners of defense and weaponry. "She acquires MMA skills, a proficiency with knives and guns, and learns how to stitch herself up and reset broken bones. She readies herself to take action on the 5th anniversary of their death, which was also Carly's birthday," explains Garner.
Called to investigate a gruesome triple homicide, Gang Homicide Division Detective Moises Beltran and Detective Stan Carmichael soon realize that the victims are the same three men accused of the murder of Riley's family 5 years prior. As they dig deeper into the investigation, the clock ticks and the body count rises.
Embattled after years on the job, lead Detective Moises Beltran has seen it all and knows how the system works. He is a straight shooter who is methodical and unflinching. "Moises is an old school cop who's been on the force for a long time and has seen everything. He has encountered terrible things and has developed an emotional distance by doing everything by the book," explains Morel.
Moises's measured lack of emotion and straight-forward methodology creates a level of ambiguity that raises questions as to whether or not he's on the take, a dynamic that accomplished actor John Ortiz (Silver Linings Playbook) found particularly interesting. "He's presented with more ambiguity than a police detective typically is, he's not clearly defined as being a good or bad cop, which I found really interesting. This ambiguity asks the question of what is good or bad and what is the law in what feels like the wild-west?" More obtusely affected by his experiences on the force is Moises's partner Detective Stanley Carmichael. "Carmichael is a bit younger than Moises and is more emotionally affected by what he's encountered. He doesn't seem to have learned how to cope as well," explains Morel.
Chosen for the role of Detective Carmichael, actor John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane) was interested in exploring the psychological ramifications of working in law enforcement. "I think he became a cop with the best of intentions and was maybe a bit naïve, but being in the gang homicide division he's seen a lot of really rough stuff. His experiences have driven him to ways of self-medicating in an attempt to stay numb."
As they dig deeper, Moises and Carmichael begin to connect the dots. In quick succession over the next few hours, other conspirators in the long-ago killing and subsequent legal whitewash begin to end up dead, all in a violent and spectacular fashion. Their suspicions are confirmed when they are contacted by FBI Agent Lisa Inman, who has been tracking Riley North as she traversed the globe, always one step ahead of detection. The full story of Riley North now comes into focus as the law enforcement team struggle to keep up with her deadly mission, seemingly always one-step behind.
Now that Riley is back, she is determined to take out not just kingpin Garcia, but everyone on his payroll. Knowing she's after him, Garcia uses all of his resources and muscle to try and stop her. The hunt intensifies as she defies every attempt. Barely recognizable, this once sweet and unassuming suburban Mom is now transformed into a ruthless soldier on a mission to avenge her family's wrongful death.
Hiding in plain sight, Riley lives out of a van on Los Angeles' Skid Row, camouflaged by the city's forgotten and disenfranchised. Despite her attempts to shut herself off from others, she unintentionally becomes the guardian and protector of the homeless community around her. Faint echoes of her former-self show themselves despite her greatest effort to leave such things behind.
"A phenomenon has happened on Skid Row since Riley's arrival, the crime rate in the surrounding area goes down significantly, so much that the police are noticing and wondering why their numbers are off," notes Garner. "Even though she has shut herself down emotionally, she can't help but demand justice from the world and looks after the people around her.
About The Production
A filmmaker with a deft hand at compelling and intense action-oriented material, Director Pierre Morel approached Peppermint with an equal emphasis on the drama as the action. Reeling from unimaginable loss, Riley North channels what little she has left into exacting justice in the name of her family. "It's all about the emotional journey for me, there's no reason for the action if it isn't as interesting as the drama," argues Morel. As with his prior films, Morel strove to imbue the film with reality-based action choreography without special effects or digital manipulation. Veteran stunt coordinator Keith Woulard was enlisted to help fulfill the mandate of creating real-world action shot in-camera.
"Pierre has done a lot of action and had a strong vision for this film," recalls Woulard. "He wanted to create a new kind of action, action strongly rooted in the real world and we meticulously mapped-out all the sequences step-by-step."
"I'm always wary of the heroes doing things that would not be realistically feasible, so we worked carefully with Keith to avoid choreographing anything that was completely impossible," Morel explains. "Again, it's part of the grounded and realistic missive for the movie, she's not going to walk on ceilings or fly by wire."
"There's nothing in the film that an actual person couldn't do. I mean, you would have to be an incredibly well-trained, skilled acrobat-slash-gymnast-slash-weapons expert to pull it off, but there's nothing in there that's physically impossible," says Wright.
When selecting a cinematographer for the film, the producers suggested Morel meet with Director of Photography David Lanzenberg, with whom they had worked on their period-film, The Age of Adaline. "On the surface, the only two things that make sense about pairing David and Pierre together are that they're both in the movie industry and they're both French, and that's where the obvious similarity ends," explains Richard Wright. "Pierre is visceral, sharp and quick and David has a very specific way to photograph things and they're not a typical combination as artists."
Although Lanzenberg and Morel's prior work may not be an obvious match on paper, the duo ended up complimenting each other perfectly. "It turned out to be a really beautiful collaboration. The movie is going to be a really solid action movie but it will be shot in a really beautiful way," comments Lucchesi.
Morel notes, "David's prior work is not action-oriented at all, with very stylized and sophisticated static shots while a lot of my films are grittier and with more movement. We worked together on merging those ideals to establish the right tone and it turned out great."
The relationship had its' benefits. "By the middle of the movie they were speaking only in French to each other all the time so no one else could understand them," laughs Lucchesi.
A pillar of Morel's approach to filming epic action sequences is rooted in full immersion of the actor. As audiences become increasingly more sophisticated, Morel stressed how important it was to find an actor who was willing to do all their own stunt work. "I feel it is very important to be with the character all the time on this journey, so the fact that everything is performed by the actor is key. Jennifer fully embraced that idea and was ready to go for it."
"Pierre knows exactly what he wants, he's very clear and has a real eye for action and the camera. We were always on the same page with the realism, he and I were very much aligned," recalls Garner.
Upon signing on to the project, Jennifer Garner immediately jumped into an intensive fitness and training regimen. Garner spent several hours a day working with various trainers and methods that included weight training, Krav Maga, boxing and a style of dance-based training and choreography. "I grew up a dancer and I think that is why action makes sense to me, it's all choreography and using a dance-based method lended itself well to the fight sequences," explains Garner.
While her sense of fight choreography was still sharp and only required finetuning, some aspects required more in-depth training. "I needed to work on my boxing because I haven't fought in so long, so I worked with a trainer every day. On top of that we spent several hours a day taking me through the paces of all of it; boxing, kicking and action choreography."
In addition to physical conditioning, Garner spent time with members of the Navy SEALs to improve her tactical and weapon fluency. "I had a basic understanding of how to use a weapon, how to change a mag, etc. but it had been a long time and I needed to dive back into it."
Notes Woulard, "Jennifer jumped right in and picked it up incredibly quickly. Riley uses a wide variety of weapons and we wanted to make sure she was proficient with each. Needless to say, she was a natural."
Garner's commitment to the process was extensive and unflinching. "Jen hung in there and never complained once, and would often call me and ask to train over the weekends," recalls Woulard. "She is the type of actor any coordinator would love to work with, she treats everyone with the highest level of respect which makes everyone else want to work that much harder for her."
Garner worked closely with her long-time stunt double Shauna Duggins, who offered her unflinching support. "Shauna has been my double for almost twenty years and is one of my closest girlfriends. Unless it is getting hit by a car or tumbling down the stairs, which she would never let me do, she is on the sidelines telling me 'you can do it, you've got this.' She is helping me do all these crazy things so that whatever you see on screen is actually me."
"I hope that audiences get a huge tub of popcorn in the theater and have a blast. The action is smart and it's all me," laughs Garner.
As Riley makes her way down the list of names, she targets one of Garcia's outposts to weaken their position, which happens to be located within a piñata store. In this sequence, Riley single-handedly takes down a dozen heavily-armed heavyweights in a matter of minutes. "A great deal of work went into the piñata shop," explains Woulard. "We had a total of 14 bad guys in an extremely small space and Pierre wanted the action to flow like an orchestra. It took several rehearsals to get it right and Jen went through that shop like a cobra."
Sure to be a fan favorite, the piñata sequence proved to be a perfect backdrop for a takedown. "There were piñatas everywhere, all sizes and colors from floor to ceiling, it was amazing. It was so colorful and is supposed to be a happy place and all hell breaks loose with shredded paper, marshmallows and candies flying all over the place," laughs Morel.
Filming In Los Angeles
Riley North's journey from suburban Mom to justice-seeking vigilante is a study of contrast, an exploration of opposites seen in the diverse backdrop of the film. From the family-friendly breezy suburbs to the darkest and most crime-infested corners, Peppermint exposes the diverse and oppositional forces co-existing in the city of Los Angeles. The grittiness of the story was reflected in the making of the film, away from the glare of Hollywood; no stages, no studios and all practical locations.
"Shooting in the actual city where your film takes place is almost a luxury these days and we were lucky to shoot Los Angeles for Los Angeles," explains Pierre Morel. "However, we wanted to show a different side of the city away from the glare of Hollywood. We wanted to shine a light into the dark corners and the people who occupy those spaces."
The production schedule for Peppermint was ambitious and lean, clocking in at forty-four days, a large majority of which were on a night schedule.
With Riley hiding in plain-sight in a van on Skid Row, the filmmakers were faced with the challenge of how to capture and recreate the gritty tactical reality of the location. The filmmakers scouted the area extensively, the experience not without impact. "Scouting at night was very eye-opening, you see the distress, how dark and just how low someone can fall," says Morel.
Impossible to shoot on the real Skid Row for safety and logistical reasons, and to avoid disrupting the local community, the production team made the bold decision to recreate Skid Row a few short blocks from the real thing. "We filmed immediately adjacent and in the same geographical area as Skid Row and shared many alleys. The streets were steam cleaned with heavy-duty chemicals to sanitize to make it safe for everyone, but other than that it was the real thing," explains Wright.
Although the production went to great lengths to clean the area, there were reminders everywhere…some with four legs. "After shooting a scene where I repeatedly collapsed on the street I noticed two dead rats on my way to the monitor 10-feet away. I laughed and said rats…we're really doing it!" laughs Garner.
Release Date: December 13th, 2018