I didn’t know anything about Proud Mary when I watched it this week. I genuinely don’t think I’ve heard anything about it but it sounded like the kind of thing that could be quite fun. As much as I’d like to use my cinema viewing as a chance to make a stand against gun violence given the current climate in American, I’m a bit of a sucker for a good action movie. My inner 12-year-old boy comes out every time there’s a decent gunfight or car chase. It’s the only reason I continue to watch all of the godawful Transformers movies. Robots, check; guns, check; fast cars, check. It’s got it all but a decent script and a good cast. In spite of everything, there will always be a part of me that thinks that movie characters who are super handy with a gun are cool. It’s like smoking. On screen it looks totally badass but, in reality, it’s really harmful and awful. Gun control is a real issue and I do believe that Hollywood has a need to be careful with how they portray guns but, at the same time, I really love a good gunfight. Which is the very reason that I actually watched Proud Mary despite knowing nothing about it. Well, that and the fact that Taraji P. Henson is an absolute legend.
The end result? I don’t normally like to start my reviews with my conclusion but this film is a waste of Taraji P. Henson’s talent. It’s runtime is less than 90 minutes which tells you everything you need to know. There’s no substance here. It relies too heavily on its main star and the styling. Although, it is only the lead actor who actually carries any weight. You can tell that when this film was made it was supposed to emulate a sort of retro styling but it never really takes off. Somebody was clearly quite proud of the film’s opening sequence but it falls so irritatingly short every time. It feels lazy and sloppily directed. It takes you out of the moment and you never quite find your way back.
And, for a film that is all about a badass hitwoman it manages to be completely boring. The only reason to watch this, aside from the fact that it won’t really take up any of your time, is for Henson’s performance. Playing Mary, a hired killer for a notable crime family in Boston, Henson manages to bring a grit and edge to a role that lacks any depth. After a particularly difficult hit a year ago, Mary has become disillusioned with her job. When she takes in an orphaned boy, Danny, she decides she wants out of the game. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people trying to stop her driving off into the sunset. Her boss, her ex-boyfriend, and a rival family all set their sights on Mary and she must use her skills to save herself and Danny. Henson brings a certain credibility to Mary and a vulnerability. There is little in the script to explain her actions or her desires but Henson manages to fill her performance with more emotional depth than the film deserves.
The problem is, there is nothing to Proud Mary beyond its meagre narrative. Behind the camera there are so many problems that it becomes unforgivable. The lighting, the editing, the pacing, and the choreography of the action sequences are all so unfathomable at times it’s impossible to figure out how nobody stopped it. It’s not the best cast in the history of cinema but its got a lot of potential. A lot of potential that Proud Mary never gives them a chance to use. This is a film that stifles its actors in every single way and never gives them any chance to get across a good performance. Henson manages to, at least, use her charm and sheer onscreen presence work for her but she cannot save this film. There are so many avenues that it tries to explore but never goes anywhere with. So many relationships that are never developed and so many characters who you can’t connect with.
Taraji P. Henson is a great actor and she deserves her chance to prove what a badass she is. If she keeps being given films like Proud Mary then she will never get anywhere. She almost gets that chance towards the end of the scene but there is so much about the making of this movie that prevents her going the whole hog. This is one of those films that, in the right hands, could have been sensational. Instead, it’s a supremely short, badly made, and incredibly forgettable action movie that you’ll kind of wish you’d never seen. It’s a massive shame.