Film Review: Viper Club

Susan Sarandon skillfully drives every frame of this tense drama about a single mother desperate to rescue her journalist son from terrorists.
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YouTube Originals, with help from arthouse regulars Roadside Attractions, goes YouBig Screen to big dramatic effect with Viper Club, a fresh spin on fallout from the endless Middle East conflict. Viewers seeking quality with their entertainment get both; a tip-off is filmmaker J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year, All is Lost, Margin Call), here serving as a producer.
 
Credit director and co-writer (with Jonathan Mastro) Maryam Keshavarz with the film's win, as she gives star Susan Sarandon nourishing drama to contend with. And contend she does, although resolutions for her heroine are frustratingly elusive. But therein lies the suspense and momentum.
 
Sarandon stars as Helen, the New York ER nurse and single mother whose son Andy (Julian Morris), a freelance video journalist who reports from combat zones, is being held by terrorists in Syria. 
 
Helen, required to keep her son’s horrific situation to herself, walks into a brick wall in the form of FBI Agent Walsh (Patrick Breen), a do-nothing apotheosis of government bureaucracy and incompetence. Even the State Department is useless. But a surprise hospital visit from Sheila (Sheila Vand), Andy’s girlfriend of Iraqi heritage, brings hope. Sheila, an activist on behalf of war journalists, is a member of the Viper Club, a covert group of activists, advocates, journalists and the inclined well-heeled who work to save people in dilemmas like Andy’s.
 
Through Sheila, Helen meets Charlotte (Edie Falco, stepping up in class), a wealthy New York philanthropist and activist with the Viper Club. She is instrumental in helping Helen try to find money for Andy’s now-established ransom of $20 million. Also important in Helen’s corner is Sam (Matt Bomer), another Viper Club activist. Even some stuffy, rich, name-dropping blue bloods help the cause.
 
As Helen follows this trail and nudges doorstop FBI Agent Walsh, serious but less personal dramas arise at the hospital where she works. She needs to effectively tutor new Iranian emigré Dr. Reza (Amir Malaklou), who cannot handle the delicate chore of informing parents of a young patient that their child could not be saved. There’s also the lingering ordeal of Amy (Lola Kirke), a mother whose young daughter lingers in a coma. Helen is burdened with the task of informing Amy that, just maybe, she should start considering organ donation. Amidst such challenges and maintaining her silence regarding Andy, Helen must also deal with her hospital boss Keesha (Adepero Oduye), who detects that all’s not right with the nurse she once so depended upon.
 
As the film progresses, flashbacks via home movies show Helen as a devoted mother to Andy. Actual news footage of the Syrian War suggests the nightmare mother and son are caught up in. As Helen navigates her main dilemma of raising many millions, Viper Club almost plays like a game show: Will she get the brass ring needed to save Andy?
 
Above all, this is Sarandon’s picture and maybe her best film work in many years.