The Kitchen and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Andrea Berloff
Oh, now who doesn’t love a good period crime movie? We’re over a hundred years into the medium and mobsters have outlived cowboys, pirates, and musicals which, now that I think about it, would make an interesting For Honor sequel. I’ll have to pitch that Ubisoft at some point, but which I mean send an overly enthusiastic tweet. ANYWAY! What caught my attention about this movie right off the bat is the cast which stars the one and only Melissa McCarthy alongside Tiffany Haddish who’s become one of the most recognizable names in movies, and yet despite two of the biggest names in Hollywood right now (as well as Elizabeth Moss who’s great as well), this hasn’t gotten a whole lot of advertisement from the studio or buzz from the critics. Is this a hidden gem that everyone else but me managed to overlook, or is this a disaster that everyone was desperate to hide? Let’s find out!!
Kathy, Ruby, and Claire (Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss) are the wives of three members of the Irish Mob back in the late seventies who are sent to jail after a robbery gone bad and they’re left to fend for themselves despite the promises that the mob will protect them financially until their husbands get out. With nothing to fall back on, a lousy economy, and two kids to take care of, Kathy decides that they should pick up the slack that the current mob boss Little Jackie (Myk Watford) has left during his ineffectual run at the top. She, Ruby, and Claire start to collect protection money, solves problems for local businesses, and even starts to recruit a few of the guys to their side including Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson) who has just returned to New York after a seemingly shady departure and is looking to sow himself back into the community. Seems like they were just what this organization needed to thrive, but with every opportunity they grab and every inch of power they accrue, it only paints a bigger target on their back as more and more people start to get jealous of how much these house wives have managed to show them up. Not only that, but their husbands will only be in prison for so long, so what’s gonna happen when they get out and try to reassert themselves as the head of their respective families as well as the organization itself? Can this trio survive in a world full of death, violence, and hard decisions? What kind of attention will they attract from outside interests, and will they see an opportunity to destroy the Irish mob or worthy foes to make peace with? Anyone else not surprised that Melissa McCarthy is great as a cold blooded killer?
Look, just make me the president of the Melissa McCarthy Fan Club already because ONCE AGAIN she’s in a movie that I REALLY enjoyed! It’s yet another crime film to add to the giant pile of them that are released every single year, but this one managed to stand out from the rest for me. Is it the solid cinematography, good use of tension, and great performances? I’m mean that’s all great to be sure, but once again Melissa McCarthy is out greatest living thespian and what other crime film can claim to have her in it!? Tammy? Yes. Also, The Boss if you count white collar crime. The point is that she’s in this well-made movie along with a bunch of other incredibly talented people, so it was almost a certainty that I would find SOMETHING to like about it!
At least for someone with my taste, it’s everything I wanted in a period crime thriller. Over the top characters, lots of sin and vice, and a rockin’ soundtrack to carry the whole thing through! It’s a formula that has worked for many films like The Departed, Kill the Irishman, and American Gangster, and while I don’t this is quite on the level of some of the best (The Departed will always be an untouchable masterpiece in my eyes), it gets enough of it right that I found it to be one of the more enjoyable one of these films in quite some time. It has that all important sense of looming dread to it that’s the double edged sword to the dizzying highs of power and fortune, and as much as you’re enjoying these characters getting what’s theirs, you’re just as terrified that a bullet will come through one of their windows or that a trip down the street would end in them getting pinched by the cops. This is apparently based on a comic book series which I had never even heard of, but it makes sense because it’s got that sense of pulp style to it that’s often associated with the medium. There’s quite a bit of blood and some gory deaths throughout that do a good job of punctuating the violence but the movie never relies on it to get the point across about these characters and just how far they’re willing to go.
What really gave this movie its strength though are the actors; particularly our three leads. As I said, I am the President of the Melissa McCarthy fan club so I have nothing but praise for her performance here which is still recognizably a Melissa McCarthy role, but boy has she never been scarier than she’s been in here! It’s kind of like the way Bryan Cranston managed to transform himself from the goofy type he often played as into a heartless monster throughout the course of Breaking Bad, and sure we’ve only got an hour and a half so there’s not as much room for that kind of growth, but Melissa McCarthy is VERY convincing in the role of someone who… well, BROKE BAD. Tiffany Haddish is just as good as she’s actually playing a bit more against type than McCarthy. The thing is that I’ve seen McCarthy do more serious roles like Can You Ever Forgive Me, but this is the first time I’ve seen Haddish outside of a straight up comedy, and she manages to translate her magnetism from those roles into pure gravitas here with a character who reveals herself to be more and more dangerous as the movie goes along to the point that you don’t know exactly where it’s going but it’ll get there do to her actions. Of the three I’d say that Elisabeth Moss has the least to do, but it’s not by much and the role she DOES play is one that could not have been easy to portray. They all have their scars and their demons, but Moss has the most to reckon with and her transformation over the course of the movie is REALLY intriguing; especially when Domhnall Gleeson enters the picture and kicks are arc into overdrive. We got a really good amount of her in this movie, but I was still hoping for more which if you ask me is a good indication of how well the actor plays the part. Everyone else around them plays their parts quite well too. Brian d’Arcy James has an interesting role as a Melissa McCarthy’s wife who’s a guy trying to mask his feelings in an attempt to keep the peace, but you can always tell that something is bubbling up beneath him, and Margo Martindale as the matriarch of this crime family gives a great performance whenever she comes on screen.
The movie is not flawless however and even I, the now and forever president of the Melissa McCarthy fan club, found two problems worth talking about. I think the pacing is pretty badly skewed with a truncated first act that leads to an overly long second act. The jump from them being broke nobodies who everyone trounces upon to people with power and influence in the community happens rather quickly and we get the FAME, FORTUNE, AND DANCING montage only about twenty minutes into the film. Because of this, the second act feels like it’s stretched out and we spend way too long on them at the top maintaining their empire. It’s not that the scenes are great in their own right, but it feels like we’ve plateaued in the narrative and are just doing side quests until the next big thing happens which makes this movie feel much longer than it needs to. The other thing is something that feels… poorly timed, let’s say. There’s a sizable subplot in the second act where the crew are trying to muscle into a Jewish community and get them under their wing for protection, construction jobs, and the like. In order to bring them around, the crew does some PRETTY nasty and horrifying things to them, which just feels PARTICULARLY wrong in this political climate. Now I’m not saying there was any malice on display here as Manhattan does have a large Jewish population and this is far from the first New York crime film to include them, but it’s still pretty hard to watch the kind of terror and violence the inflict on them given what’s been going on in our country; at least what’s more VISIBLY going on in our country.
For whatever reason this movie has been getting lambasted by critics, and I can certainly see PROBLEMS with it, but I’m not sure why this is doing so poorly when there’s so much to appreciate here. It’s not really reinventing the wheel for the genre, but then when was the last one of these crime thrillers (ESPECIALLY New York crime thrillers) that wasn’t doing a cover of Scorsese or Coppola? It has a solid style all its own, they do a great job of building the tension throughout, and most importantly it is filled with top notch performances from these very talented actors. I absolutely recommend checking it out in theaters while you still have the chance. It can feel a little long at times to be sure, but if you’re a fan of anyone in this then I think that alone would be enough to justify the ticket price. It’s such a great showcase for everyone involved even if the material is a bit too pulpy to really get anyone any awards buzz, but that’s not really a problem for you to worry about when deciding if you want to see it. Shoot, I put The Happytime Murders on my Top Ten list! I’m USED to my faves being constantly overlooked!