Proud Mary FILM REVIEW
Director: Babak Najafi
Story: John Stuart Newman & Christian Swegal
Screenplay: John Stuart Newman & Christian Swegal and Steve Antin
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Billy Brown, Danny Glover, Xander Berkeley, Neil McDonough
Rated R for violence.
Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
***1/2 out of *****
Photo: Screen Gems
Mary (Taraji P. Henson), a hitwoman for a Boston organized crime family, prepares for her next target in the action-thriller PROUD MARY.
Female lead action movies never actually achieved legitamacy until the early 2000s. In the 1970s, these sort of films were primarily grindhouse exploitation action films whose main selling point was violence mixed with T&A. In 1986, James Cameron's ALIENS gave audiences a game-changing action heroine in Eileen Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver in an Academy Award nominated performance. In the 1990s there were a few female lead action movies released but it still wasn't the sort of film studios were ready to roll the dice on. In 2001, Angelina Jolie broke the mold with LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER and proved audiences were ready for action heroines. Since then, many actresses, including A-listers and at the time lesser known names, have been getting a piece of the action and nowadays female lead actioners are quite the norm. Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson enters the ring and flexes her action muscle in Babak Najafi's PROUD MARY.
The hitman or mafia enforcer is a tried and true character of the action genre. However, hitwomen are characters who seldom see much screen time muchless leading a film solely about those characters. NIKITA, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT or even KILL BILL are just some of the titles about female assassins. The story by John Stuart Newman and Christian Swegal may not break new ground, it certainly mines tropes and situations seen in other films, but it does introduce a strong and engaging action heroine. When we first meet Mary we get a sense that she's an effective, efficient and merciless killer. However, one moment of compassion pushes her life onto an unexpected path. That path involves an interesting cast of characters from a young kid with attitude to the heads of different crime families in the city. Of course blood will be spilt along the way.
Easily the film's greatest asset is Taraji P. Henson. One may not immediately see her in the role but if you've ever seen her turn on the hit CBS action series PERSON OF INTEREST then you'd likely know she could pull it off. Even if you haven't seen it, Henson quickly alleviates any unease and you'll likely find yourself waiting with bated breath for the moment when she will unleash hell. It's a moment which ultimately proves to be the highlight of the film featuring a ballet of well
choreographed action and violence. Beyond her action prowess Henson delivers a nicely layered performance as you constantly get a sense of the gravity of her predicament and how she does her best to never show her hand. Jahi Di'Allo Winston also stars as Danny, a young boy who's lived a pretty hard life and unexpectedly finds himself in the care of Mary. Winston gives his character depth and maturity beyond his years and serves as a great foil to Henson's Mary. The chemistry and dynamic between the two really fuels the emotional center of the film. The film also features strong supporting turns from Danny Glover, Xander Berkeley, Neil McDonough and Billy Brown.
Director Babak Najafi, who last directed LONDON HAS FALLEN, shows he's more than up to the task. His strength with the action scenes is equally matched by the dramatic scenes. Some of the film's best scenes involve quieter moments between Henson and Winston and between Henson and Danny Glover's Benny. Of course, it's the action that will likely draw the largest crowds and the shootouts won't disappoint. As previously mentioned the big action set piece of the film is a fun and visually electric action sequence. However, there are a number of other action scenes which precede it that provide just enough of a tease to wet the appetite of hungry action film afficionados.
PROUD MARY is an entertaining action film which feels like a throwback to the sort of '90s action films which we'd likely see headlined by a male actor. The film plays to the strengths of its lead and her passion and conviction shine through. Taraji P. Henson gives a strong and effective performance and shows she's ready to hang with the big girls like Charlize Theron, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence and Saoirse Ronan; all Academy Award nominees & winners and notable action heroines. The film is yet another notch in the belt to show that the girls can do it just as well as the boys. Najafi, like recent directors before him, continues to give credence to the fact that female lead action films can be smart, fun and sophisticated and don't always have to be focused solely on action and titillation to succeed and entertain.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal