Fresh from her Oscar nomination for Best Actress for Frozen River, Melissa Leo once again toughs it out as a trailer park action mom in a macho hardcore world, relying on fierce maternal instinct, in South African director/co-writer Darrell Roodt’s international crime thriller, Lullaby. No less frazzled than her Canadian border immigrant smuggler in Frozen River, Leo relocates to a warmer but equally toxic clime, the hotbed of hyper-violent criminal activity in the impoverished slums of Johannesburg.
Leo is Stephanie, a kindhearted middle aged waitress in a Texas diner, as she barely makes ends meet while supporting her perpetually drunk slacker boyfriend. When she receives threatening calls from Johannesburg from ruthless gangsters demanding an increasingly hefty ransom for the release from captivity of her drug addicted son there, Stephanie panics, borrows any cash she can from willing friends, and heads to South Africa to free her son single-handedly by any means necessary, though she hasn’t a clue.
Repeatedly ordered around town by the thugs to multiple locations where she’s directed to make good on a tab that keeps rising, if she ever wants to see her son alive again, Stephanie soon realizes she’s a pawn in a cruel game. But as a devoted mom, never giving up hope. Eventually hooking up with, well a hooker named Tina (Lisa-Marie Schneider), who is simultaneously the very pregnant girlfriend of her son and the sexual property of the head combo extortionist pimp, the two women, neither of whom is in top fighting form, so to speak, pool their collective imaginations instead to outwit the malevolent con men.
The solid emotional anchor of this often fragmented and unfocused tale, Melissa Leo gives dramatic weight and substance to the somewhat sketchy material. And among the best scenes are between the two women with shattered lives grasping at survival, a frantic mother and fearless mom to be.
Peace Arch Home Entertainment
2 1/2 stars