Directed by: Maryam Keshavarz
Writers: Maryam Keshavarz, Jonathan Mastro
Starring: Susan Sarandon, Matt Bomer, Lola Kirke
Run Time: 1h 49min
2 1/2 Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
‘Viper Club’ is dedicated to the ‘many international conflict journalists and human aid workers who put themselves in harm’s way, as well as their families back home.’ Right away, we jump into E.R. nurse Helen’s (Sarandon) story. Her journalist son Andy was in Syria when he was kidnapped by terrorists looking to make millions for his safe return. She has already been in contact with the FBI and Homeland Security who promise her that it’s their ‘top priority’ to get him back safe and sound. They also tell her not to talk to anyone as they rifle through her emails to make sure she’s not making any sort of contact with the terrorists in an attempt to pay them for his release. They want to control every step of the operation with no money exchanging hands. Paying ransom is against the law and she would be jailed if she does. Getting nowhere, she’s frustrated, heartbroken and disappointed with the lack of progress. She explains that a jail sentence would be welcomed to living life without Andy. She’s told to keep Andy’s kidnapping to herself but is unable to and has already contacted the people she and Andy trust most.
Andy’s friends get her in touch with Charlotte (Falco), whose son Leo was returned after she collected donations from sources willing to help her with her predicament. Helen is told about the ‘Viper Club,’ an unofficial organization of international journalists and some gracious, incredibly wealthy people who might be willing to help. The journalists in the network speak of who they had met while in captivity and are able to give everyone some insight on what the prisoners go through. This usually helps when the richest of the rich decide it’s time to open up their wallets but isn’t easy on the mother’s to hear. Helen, strong through it all, is constantly assaulted by memories of when they argued or of Andy as a child while at the same time reads to a child who’s laying in a hospital bed in a coma. There’s a fascinating juxtaposition going on as the two mothers fight for the same thing; one able to provide comfort to the other while one is left screaming inside.
Helen is told the terrorists want 20 million dollars for Andy’s return. Without this money, Andy will surely be killed so with some urging, she decides to make a video about what has happened to her son and pleads to the terrorists not to hurt him. She looks into the camera lens and informs his captors that she will scrape together every penny that she has and get them what she can. The video is picked up by cable news and spreads like wildfire. Luckily, through Charlotte’s connections, money starts pouring in.
The film is entertaining and measured. The score is simple and elegant and appropriately touching in moments when the audience needs to be reminded of this mother’s struggle. As I mentioned earlier, Helen is strong but Sarandon might have played her too apprehensively, to withdrawn because you don’t feel for Helen the way you should when someone is experiencing this much agony.
‘Viper Club’ is conceptually full of good intentions but its execution lacks a self-reliant appeal needed to make it the must-see it could have been. What happens at the end is emotional and an incredibly effective way to end a film like this which is exactly the same way it started, palpable and bold. Not much explanation needed. In these trying times we’re in, the storyline it covers is reason enough to watch.