Susan Sarandon Gives Empathetic Performance as Mother of Kidnapped Journalist in ‘Viper Club’

Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon may have become a somewhat controversial figure these past few years due her political opinions, but in the drama “Viper Club,” she is just an ordinary mother who finds herself thrust into an extraordinary situation. Sarandon stars as Helen Sterling, an emergency room nurse in upstate New York who makes tough calls on a daily basis, but nothing in her life has prepared her for her biggest challenge yet, the kidnapping of her only son, journalist Andy (Julian Morris), by extremists in Syria.

As expected, Helen hits wall after wall when it comes to seeking her son’s safe return, particularly when it comes to dealing with the U.S. government. Her FBI contact (Patrick Breen) warns her against going public with her plight, and her frustration is palpable as the weeks and months go by. Going off a tip from her son’s ex-girlfriend, Sheila (Sheila Vand), also an journalist, she turns to non-government channels, namely the Viper Club, a network of journalists, advocates, and philanthropists equipped to assisting with situations such as Andy’s. This leads her to her best ally yet, Charlotte (an impeccable Edie Falco), a wealthy NYC woman whose own son was previously held hostage. She also forms a close bond with Sam (Matt Bomer), Andy’s best friend who, along with Charlotte and Sheila, encourages Helen to publicly do whatever she can to save her son.

“Viper Club” fans the flames when it comes to distrust of the government, as the FBI is shown refusing to entertain the thought of paying the $20 million demanded by Andy’s captors, claiming no major government would do such a thing, despite strong evidence to the contrary. However, “Viper Club” does not offer a nuanced look at international relations. Instead, it focuses on the human side of things. Some of the more powerful scenes do not directly involve Andy’s situation at all. Remarkably, Helen is able to keep a cool head at work, keeping her personal suffering a secret from her colleagues, including her overextended supervisor, Keisha (an empathetic Adepero Oduye). The best example of Helen’s ability to stay calm and rational comes after a young resident she has trained, Reza (Amir Malaklou), tries to save a young shooting victim, and she steps in to make him call the boy’s death, as others need his help. Her cracks, if one could call them that, only start to show through her emotional investment in Kayla (Mattea Conforti), the comatose shooting victim of a young mother (Lola Kirke), who herself has also been wounded.

Sarandon truly lets her vulnerability shine through here, so much show that repetitive flashbacks of her and Andy as a young boy mean to pull at the heartstrings seem superfluous. However, flashbacks of her and Andy in more recent years give important insight into their relationship and who Andy is as a person and why the audience should care about him. But before the viewer can feel too warm and fuzzy, the rug is pulled out from under them. The most glaring flaw in “Viper Club” is its ending, not so much because of what happens but because of the apprutness of it.

Viper Club” opens Oct. 26 in select theaters.