2018, Abusive Relationships, Action Movies, Assassins, Bad Situations, Blaxploitation, Con-Men and Grifters, Confused Kids, Crime Films, Criminals, Damaged People, Fight Scenes, Gangsters!, Guns, Killers, Murder!, Secrets, Tough Women! 0
PROUD MARY (2018)
Review by LL Soares
When I first saw the trailer for the new movie PROUD MARY (2018), starring Taraji P. Henson, I have to admit, I smiled. It really looked like a throwback to the great blaxploitation/soul cinema films of the 1970s, classics like FOXY BROWN (1974) and CLEOPATRA JONES (1973). An African-American, female, badass protagonist, kicking butts and taking names. Unfortunately, seeing the movie itself, it’s not quite as cool as all that.
So, let’s see. We’ve got Taraji P. Henson as Mary, a hitwoman in Boston (lots of nice scenery of streets I see almost every day). She works for Benny (Danny Glover, also the co-star of all those LETHAL WEAPON movies with Mel Gibson), an old crime boss who took her in as a child and made her part of his family. Which is sweet, except for the part where he trained her mercilessly to be a cold-blooded killer. Benny’s son, Tom (Billy Brown, also in the TV series DEXTER, SONS OF ANARCHY and HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, as well as being the voice of The Vampire King on the cartoon ADVENTURE TIME) and Mary have a history. Aside from growing up as siblings (sort of), they also had a romantic relationship for a while. Oh, and you can tell right away that Tom is itching to take over for his dad, who’s getting long in the tooth.
The movie begins with Mary doing a hit, of a bookie who owes way too much money. What she doesn’t plan on is the man’s son, Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston, also on the TV shows FEED THE BEAST, 2016, and THE NEW EDITION STORY miniseries, 2017) who’s in his bedroom playing video games and doesn’t hear (or see) a thing. Mary “doesn’t do kids,” so the boy’s life is spared, but, as an orphan now, it’s not so nice.
Mary keeps track of him, though, because she feels guilty. And she knows what it’s like to be a kid on the streets alone.
Danny gets mixed up with some criminals and becomes a drug courier for this creepy Russian dude named “Uncle” (Xander Berkeley, also in the movies THE GRIFTERS, 1990, TERMINATOR 2, 1991, and CANDYMAN, 1992, and the TV shows 24, CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION, SALEM, but you might know him best as Gregory on THE WALKING DEAD). Uncle doesn’t treat Danny so well, and when the kid ends up in an alleyway, unconscious and badly hurt, Mary finally steps in and gives the boy some help.
Then something really odd happens. Mary gets really pissed off and goes to Uncle’s office to give him a “piece of her mind” and things get violent. She almost seems surprised (even though she brought guns with her). Afterwards, when she’s the only living person left in the room, she leaves and tells Danny “I f**ked up!”
Huh? Didn’t she go there intending to make an example of Uncle and his goons? Why is she at all surprised with the result? She’s a paid killer. She does this for a friggin’ living, so having to kill shouldn’t come as such a shock. This struck me as a very strange moment in the script.
Of course, the Russian mob gets pissed off and wants payback. They blame Benny’s crew. And a gang war is on the verge of happening.
So, Mary has to juggle the Russians, her own group, and Danny, without getting killed. She also really wants to get out of town and start over. But Benny makes it clear that isn’t going to happen.
Back in the 70s, a movie like PROUD MARY would have been a lot more self-assured. Mary would have been played by someone like Pam Grier, and she would have been in control most of the time, kicking ass without remorse and killing when killing needs doing without batting an eyelash. She would have done it without hesitation, and would have looked sexy as hell doing it.
But PROUD MARY isn’t really that kind of movie. Maybe it was meant to be, it has the pieces to put together a similar puzzle, but instead, it gives us something a lot more melancholy. Henson’s Mary isn’t as cool and self-confident as Grier’s Foxy Brown; in fact, there are moments when she seems really unsure if she’s doing the right thing at all. Frankly, she looks weary. She’s tired of this life and just wants to get away from it all. She sees Danny as some kind of second chance. Since she was never a mother, and instead kills for a living, she probably thought taking care of a kid would never happen to her, but here’s her opportunity to be maternal. She starts out doing what she does because of guilt, but slowly grows to really care about Danny, until it’s clear he’s the only thing good about her life. So, she’s willing to risk everything to protect him.
Despite her fear and confusion afterwards, she handles Uncle and his men pretty smoothly. And when she takes on entire mobs toward the end, she’s an unhesitant killing machine. But when she stops, and thinks about what she’s doing, there’s a twinge of sadness there.
That sadness is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because it adds a human dimension to the story, and it’s kind of refreshing that we gret a heroine who isn’t as stone-cold as someone like Charlize Theron’s Lorraine Broughton in ATOMIC BLONDE (2016). Because she’s not sure of herself and has moments where she’s truly vulnerable, Mary is more like a real person than a superhero. And to a degree, that works. There’s a real sense of existential dread in the story. Something killers like Lorraine and John Wick don’t worry about.
But the sadness is also a bad thing, because it drains some of the energy from the movie. It makes the movie less exciting than it should be. The action is there, but isn’t efficient, or satisfying as it could be.
I like Taraji P. Henson a lot. I’ve enjoyed watching her career grow over the years in movies like HUSTLE & FLOW (2005), THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008) and HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) and TV shows like BOSTON LEGAL, PERSON OF INTEREST, and her current (very popular) role as Cookie Lyon on the series EMPIRE. The last time I saw her on a big screen in a theater was in the thriller NO GOOD DEED (2014), where she played opposite Idris Elba. She’s got real charisma and I thought she would be a good choice for a heroine in the spirit of 1970s movies. But the story of PROUD MARY doesn’t give her enough to do, or give her character enough depth. There’s potential here for something good, but it just never fulfills its promise. As such, it’s just not a movie-star-making role.
Jahi Di’Allo Winston is good as Danny. In these kinds of movies, the kid is crucial to whether the movie works, and early on, Danny was kind of annoying. But he grew on me the way he grew on Mary, and I think he does a good job here overall. I also liked the performances by Danny Glover and Billy Brown, and Xander Berkeley is always good at sleazy guys, as is Rade Serbedzija (also in TAKEN 2, 2012, and THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, 2014) as his gangster brother, Luka.
This one is directed by Babak Najafi, who previously directed some episodes of the underrated Cinemax series BANSHEE, and the movie LONDON HAS FALLEN (2016). It was written by John Stuart Newman (who also writes for the TV series version of GET SHORTY, and for awhile wrote for the soap opera DAYS OF OUR LIVES), Christina Swegal (who previously wrote for a few short films and TV episodes), and actor/writer Steven Antin who, not-surprisingly, wrote the remake of John Cassevetes’ GLORIA that was directed by Sidney Lumet in 1999 with Sharon Stone. GLORIA has a similar plot to PROUD MARY, but Cassavetes’ 1980 original, starring Gena Rowlands blows that remake and PROUD MARY away without blinking an eye.
PROUD MARY isn’t an all-out kick-ass, no-holds-barred grindhouse movie like FOXY BROWN. It’s not as sure of itself, and there’s that sadness that permeates a lot of the film, which I’m not sure is always intentional. It’s not a great movie, but it is a good one, and I liked it. I just wish it had more fire in its belly, and more fury in its delivery.
I give PROUD MARY two and a half knives.
© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares
LL Soares gives PROUD MARY ~two and a half knives (out of a possible five).