Proud Mary

By Gleiberman, Owen | Variety, January 16, 2018 | Go to article overview

Proud Mary


Gleiberman, Owen, Variety


FILM REVIEW

Proud Mary

Director: Babak Najafi

Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Billy Brown, Danny Glover

Proud Mary" is an assassin-with-aheart-of-gold action thriller in which the sizzle doesn't match the steak (or, in this case, the low-grade VOD-and-cable-ready B-movie hamburger). The sizzle is all about the blazing guns and badass attitude - about the film's neo-blaxploitation credits and title allusion to the anarchic Ike & Tina Turner version of "Proud Mary," about its showy and efficient but ultimately rather routine action sequences, and about the doleful swagger of its star and executive producer, Taraji P Henson, who knows how to shoot a bullet into somebody's chest by adding that special touch of mean-it fierceness.

Beneath the ballistic flash, though, the film is a rather desultory sentimental fable about a veteran Boston killer, Mary (Henson), who takes a 13-year-old street urchin, Danny (Jahi Di'Allo Winston), under her tattered wing. She becomes his protector, and in the process tries to liberate herself from a lifetime of regret. Henson is the right actress to play a contract killer grown weary, but as a thriller "Proud Mary" doesn't quite do her justice. It's a connect-the-dots underworld trifle, watchable and minimal (at scarcely 88 minutes, it has time for about one-anda-half plot twists), though Henson holds it together and, at moments, comes close to convincing you that you're watching a better movie.

Mary meets Danny when she orphans him by killing his deadbeat father. The kid is already a precocious criminal, a survivor with a tough pout, who works for a local hood - played by the always appealing Xander Berkeley, though in this case trying out an unfortunate stage-Yiddish accent from the early '60s. Danny's plight brings out the maternal instinct that Mary has been repressing her whole life, ever since she was a lost teenager who got rescued by Benny (Danny Glover), the gangster who trained her to be an assassin and made her part of his criminal family. It's a nest that no one is allowed to leave.

Glover, now 71, gives an arresting performance. Holding his tall frame stock-still, he's all scratchy vocal delivery and folksy benevolence until he's crossed, at which point he turns evil, though he doesn't alter his delivery at all, just the words he's saying. He's a very friendly monster. We can see why Mary would want to be free of him - and, what's more, why she's still running from her romance with Benny's cloyingly heartless son, Tom (Billy Brown). They're her clan, but she wants to breathe clean air again.

The outline of "Proud Mary" suggests a pulp version of "Gloria," the 1980 John Cassavetes thriller in which Gena Rowlands played a gangster's moll who goes on the run to protect a boy. …

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