***spoilers to follow***
I'll be honest...I wasn't originally going to watch Lila & Eve.
The trailer seemed forced to me, like J. Lo went up to Viola Davis one day and said, "Did you ever see my movie Enough? I want to do something else just like that."
But then on a whim I decided to rent it today from Google Play and I noticed that all the reviews kept referencing the awesome "twist" that none of them saw coming. All the reviews I read were positive, and I realized Davis and her real-life husband (also her love interest in the film) were the executive producers.
Okay...had my attention.
I'm going to go ahead and flat-out state the twist because the twist is not the point. Eve...is Lila. Lila is Eve. One of the many themes of Lila's support group is madness, the mental unraveling which comes from knowing your child's been murdered, is never coming home, is never getting any justice, and everyone just wants you to STFU and stay out of sight. The beginning of the film shows Viola Davis doing her best impression of Olivia Pope by living off wine and anti-depressants. The film also shows what happens when another member of the group forgoes her meds in favor of the Bible, three years and three days after the murder of her son.
Viola Davis is Lila Walcott, mother of Stephon (Aml Ameen). She's the "real" character in the film. She meets Eve Rafael (or thinks she meets Eve) at the support group for mothers of murdered children. And while everyone is being warm and supportive, talking about how they understand how much Lila wants her son back, wants to hold him and hear his voice, Eve is the only one stating what Lila relaly wants: revenge. This is why I say the twist is not the point; the movie is not about the twist. It's about the rage.
Lila is a woman literally driven mad by fury. Her son has died in a drive-by and she doesn't know why. He wasn't a dealer, he wasn't a gang member, and he had no apparent connection to the drug dealer who also died that night. There are two detectives assigned to his case. One's the Smart Detective, who initially doesn't remember who Lila is, but turns out to be pretty quick on the uptake. His partner is the Career Detective, who has zero fucks to give. Despite both men being fairly intelligent, neither one is particularly helpful to our protagonist.
After finding a .357 Magnum in her younger son Justin's backpack, Lila freaks out. But then Eve, who's oddly calm and focused, nudges Lila towards using the gun to find her older son's killers. At first Eve strikes us as the sociopathic temptress; she doesn't hesitate to pull triggers and she doesn't blink when the bodies drop. Eve is the aspect of Lila's personality that is unflinching in her conviction and ruthlessly meticulous (and innovative) in planning. Eve turns Lila into a professional hitwoman, shooting with impeccable accuracy, easily tracking dealers up the criminal hierarchy, using her position as a county clerk to find their homes, even rigging her entire house to blow up, killing the entire upper echelon of the organization.
Lila doesn't even realize Eve is all in her head until she's reviewing selfies with her new beau, and notices she's alone in all of them.
There have been hints throughout the film, of course; Eve always leaves before the Serenity prayer ('cause she can't hold hands with anyone); no one from the group ever speaks to her, and Lila never introduces her to anyone. But in the scene where Lila finally realizes what's going on, Eve shows up to remind her that she was the one who asked for help. Eve reminds Lila that not a single drug dealer or hitman they've killed has expressed any regrets for the death of her son (who caught a stray bullet meant for someone else, by the way). Eve points out that even "when their time comes", none of them are sorry; they just reach for yet another gun to shoot at her.
It's in this scene that Lila realizes Eve has almost completely overwhelmed her. Eve reveals that it was Lila who hid the gun in her young son's backpack. And despite repeatedly claiming to be "done" and not wanting to hunt down dealers anymore, Lila keeps working her way up the criminal ladder, busting a cap in every rung. Right then, Lila decides she needs to stop Eve/herself, so when she rigs her house to explode, Lila tries to burn down with it...but fails.
And when the Smart Detective finally pieces together who's behind the murders, he can't do anything about because an entire support group of grieving mothers is willing to vouch (read: lie) for Lila. The films with Lila getting to take her younger son and move to a presumably safer location.
Lila & Eve is flawlessly written, beautifully edited into a semi-non-linear format, and overalls deserves far more press than it has received. The social commentary running throughout the film is handled expertly both verbally and visually. When Lila first goes to get an update from the Smart Detective, she notices some blonde cheerleader's pictures on a main board...but no brown people. When Lila kills a pair of drug-dealing brothers and their white college-kid slinger, the police chief only pushes to solve the case because the DA and the press are hounding him over the death of the latter. The chief doesn't even care if the working theory (brewing turf war) is even correct; he just needs something to shut everyone up so he and his detectives can get back to, I dunno, not solving crimes.
When the drug dealing brothers' mom has the gall to show up to the support group, Lila calls the new woman out. And that's where we see the battle lines firmly drawn in the sand: there are the drug dealers who spoil their moms and pamper their girlfriends, and then there are their victims. When the drug dealers' mom says her sons worked construction, Lila pointedly reminds everyone they were dealers. Other members of the group hop on the bandwagon, demanding to know why they should empathize with someone who let her sons buy her a home with blood money, and how dare she pretend not to know what they were really doing for a living.
And when a different drug dealer's pregnant girlfriend catches a stray bullet (she lives), and Lila is distraught, Eve points out the woman is a gold-digger who most likely chose the dealer because of his money, with no care to how he came by it. And this is the real beauty of the Lila/Eve dynamic. Lila is us, the everyday woman with a job who's just trying to make it through. Lila feels remorse, shame, panic, horror at the thought of yet another mother losing her child, even if said child is a murdering dealer. Eve is the us we wish we could be, the resolute avenging angel who doesn't hesitate to strike.
My final verdict? Five stars, without a doubt. And the next time someone plays the "black-on-black"/Latino crime card, and tries to say brown folks don't talk about, analyze, or work against inner city violence, just point them in the direction of Lila & Eve.