Even in our current state of near-constant wartime, many victims of war still haven’t had their stories told on screen. We got a hint of what it’s like to be a modern war correspondent in 2016’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, but Viper Club takes a different angle. This is not the tale of a reporter on the front lines, but rather his mother’s story.
Susan Sarandon stars as Helen, an ER nurse and mother. Her son, Andy (Julian Morris), had been reporting on the war from Syria when he was kidnapped by a militant group that has demanded an exorbitant ransom. The film is told partially in flashback, with a good amount of shots of Andy ice skating as a child so that we can piece together how much he’s loved, and how much Helen wants him home safe.
Helen is supposedly a bright woman, but her actions are not always the smartest. She’s impatient and spends far more time yelling at the FBI and the Department of Justice than trying to work with them. She assumes that their inaction is due to apathy and not experience. Though Viper Club tries its best to make her sympathetic, ultimately it just makes us spend a lot of time with an uninformed, impatient woman. True, the red tape she constantly encounters is frustrating, but merely repeating “I’m his mother” is not nearly the call to arms the movie thinks it should be.
Helen’s battle to get her son back is mirrored by one of her patients fighting for her daughter’s life, as well as a Middle Eastern doctor finishing his residency at her hospital. Somehow, Viper Club completely excuses both the patient’s mother’s blatant racism and Helen’s insubordination, which all paint a saintly picture of Helen. She’s a holy character who knows everything and can do no wrong.
Seeing the far-reaching impact of war is one of the more compelling facets of Viper Club. We know that the soldiers and civilians are affected by the ongoing wars on their soil, which is the story that Andy reports on while abroad. But the families of those doing the reporting, and the coworkers of those families, are all touched by this distant and non-abstract concept of war, and the civil servants trying to get them home are all impacted too. Watching the 24-hour news cycle go from just talking heads to tangible broken hearts is one of the few scenes in the film that garners an emotional response, because it briefly humanizes Helen to those around her. It makes the pain of war real.
Rather than construct an emotional tether to a faraway war, Viper Club instead focuses on a poorly conceived character and her martyrdom. How dull.