Dir: Babak Najafi; Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Billy Brown, Danny Glover, Neal McDonough, Xander Berkeley and Margaret Avery. 15 cert, 133 mins
Proud Mary Film Review
Liam Neeson’s Taken started a boom in action-heavy vehicles with actors down on luck to push away their genre stereotypes. Recently both John Wick and Atomic Blonde shocked audiences, by placing actors in impossible action stations while telling a solid story. I love these kinds of movies when they are done well, as they push actors to their limits while entertaining audiences. Sometimes they get bogged down in shoving star names down our throats, failing to deliver a needed dose of action and originality.
Academy Nominee Taraji P Henson joins the club in Proud Mary, which attempts to bridge the gap away from generic Caucasian action stars in a 70’s inspired thriller. Both are taking notes from the classic Blaxploitation drama Super Fly and modern thrillers. London Has Fallen director Babak Najafi, has a hard act to follow with the actress, who always commands the screen on the television. Bringing her to a broader audience, while balancing significant action is a risky task. But does it work? Or strap on the wrong boots? Find out as we delve into the Proud Mary.
Taraji P. Henson is Proud Mary, a hit woman working for an organized crime family in Boston, whose life is completely turned around when she meets a young boy whose path she crosses when a professional hit goes wrong.
20 year veteran of the big screen, Taraji P. Henson kicks serious ass in Proud Mary while everything surrounding the actress is false and uninspired. Taking cues from John Cassavetes’ 1980 crime thriller Gloria, but in turn of paying homage Babak Najafi’s Proud Mary ends up feeling like a dodgy knock-off from Poundland. On paper, all the ideas sound great, but the final results lack needed energy and finesse seen in other action offerings, as Henson’s star power is not enough to entertain audiences. Proud Mary doesn’t take any strides to be original, instead relies on cliche assassin roles and uninspired barebones action sequences.
Throughout the 88 minute runtime (an oddly short film by modern standards), Proud Mary doesn’t even bother fleshing our main hero – not even utter the name until she barges into a flat and kills the owner, then stumbles across an 11-year boy Danny. Who is being abused and used as an errand boy for generic Russian gangster (Xander Berkeley), these moments are poorly explained with no empathize on giving Mary any development. Seeing her killing goons without needed context is fun for an hour, but the hollow storyline makes you rethink all of those action scenes. The bond between Danny and Mary doesn’t feel realistic at all, instead forced in to give an excuse for the assassinations.
Stylistically, Proud Mary has a fantastic opening with classic Temptations “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” blaring with the 70s inspired Font, adding a sense of character. Babak Najafi doesn’t commit to these aesthetics and quickly throws it away for frankly dull cinematography. Despite having a strong black woman in the wheel, it doesn’t do enough to tackle a lack of diversity in the industry. Using old ideas of Blaxploitation movies, without a focus on genuine issues felt like a cop out to get boots in theatres.
I understand budget constraints limited areas of creativity, but there is no excuse for lazy writing and lame action. A couple of the scenes do have a definite meaning behind them, but there are so far in-between. Henson does her best with standard material and commits to several physically demanding scenes, convincingly making the assassin come to life. There is some chemistry between her and peers but lacks the needed spark to set Proud Mary apart from the competition.
Proud Mary wasn’t advertised much, and after spending 88 minutes of my life with it nothing about that surprise me, it’s another January mess. Wasting time on all the talent involved, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking for a meaty action thriller. Taraji P. Henson deserves better than Proud Mary, and that is a shame for everyone involved. Wait for this one, to become streamable on stream on Netflix.
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