- Anna Smith
- 16 September 2019
Andrea Berloff's flawed but enjoyable gangster film puts women centre stage
Three mob wives take matters into their own hands in this crime drama based on the DC comic book miniseries. Set in Hell's Kitchen, NYC in 1978, it stars Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss as women whose Irish mafia husbands are sent to prison. Short of cash, they make the risky decision to set up a protection racket in direct competition with local mobsters. Watching them gain confidence and take over from the men is thrilling stuff: this underdog story puts a gun to the head of sexism, and isn't afraid to pull the trigger.
But, as the body count escalates, the tone of the film becomes more problematic. It's intriguing to see otherwise ordinary female protagonists making deadly decisions, but there isn't enough exploration of the moral conflict, regardless of gender. As the women become more ruthless, they feel less human, and this is the point at which we most need to see their humanity.
That said, there is much to enjoy in The Kitchen, which comes with a hefty dose of Fleetwood Mac and grittily groovy 70s stylings. McCarthy is great as the leading mother-turned-mobster, Haddish puts in a strong turn as an equally ambitious wife, while Moss is exceptional as the victim of domestic abuse who really enjoys turning the tables. Male roles are filled well, from Domhnall Gleeson to Common, although a subplot involving the latter is underwritten.
The film's conclusion might leave you frowning, but there are moments of fun, dark humour and tension along the way. This will probably appeal best to people who felt Widows was a bit too arthouse, and who get a vicarious thrill from seeing nice girls go nasty. Hats off to writer-director Andrea Berloff for turning the tables behind the scenes, too: how many gangster films have been directed by women?
General release from Fri 20 Sep.