When the F.B.I. jails their husbands curtailing their household income, Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Claire (Elisabeth Moss) and Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) find their own places within the Irish mob and exhibit a knack for running the rackets and rubbing out the competition in "The Kitchen."
With a premise very similar to that of Steve McQueen's "Widows" but adapted from a DC Comics Vertigo series by writer/director Andrea Berloff (writer "Straight Outta Compton"), "The Kitchen" surprises as the better film, one with a late breaking plot twist that, unlike McQueen's film, is earned. Berloff's film isn't perfect, editing sometimes dropping us into or pulling us out of scenes before fully imparting their intended information, one character's new blood lust not given enough psychological shading, another's about face a bit hard to fathom, but its cast is compelling and its 1978 production realistically gritty.
Mob boss Little Jackie (Myk Watford) assures the women they'll be taken care of, but the envelopes slipped under their doors contain a pittance, Kathy and Ruby pay him a visit (abused wife Claire, the only one clearly happy her husband's been put away, says she'll get a job). But they're disrespected, Jackie sneering that his clients aren't paying and so they'll get what he gives them. Kathy decides to pay those clients a visit, discovers they're not getting their promised protection, and, with two thugs poached from Jackie's crew, begins to build her own base with Ruby's help. She even takes on the Brooklyn Italians headed up by Alfonso Coretti (Bill Camp), suggesting (with some hardball tactics) the Diamond District Jews use their Hell's Kitchen union neighbors for construction instead of importing it from across the river.
Meanwhile Claire, distraught after an attack by a homeless man she was kind to, is nearly raped by Little Jackie when she takes out her garbage. But Little Jackie's shot in the head by Gabriel O'Malley (Domhnall Gleeson), a mob enforcer returned from a cooling off period on the west coast hoping to make inroads with the woman he's yearned for now that her husband's out of the picture. Gabriel will use Jackie's corpse to instruct the women on body disposal, but only Claire has a taste for it. The lovers become lethal, Claire telling Gabriel 'I don't want you to do it. I want you to teach me how to do it.'
While the women are incredibly successful, even earning Coretti's respect, there is trouble on the horizon. Ruby's mother-in-law Helen (Margo Martindale), an influential mob matron who's always hated her, is against them. Kathy's father Larry (Wayne Duvall), whose union she is benefitting, rejects her criminality. They get news that FBI Agents Silvers (Common) and Martinez (E.J. Bonilla) have begun to surveil their neighborhood again and their husbands, Jimmy Brennan (Brian d’Arcy James), Kevin O'Carroll (James Badge Dale) and Rob Walsh (Jeremy Bobb) are coming home early. The female triumvirate is shattered when one of their own is hit by a young thug another had protected.
In a perverse way, this movie is pretty timely with its white males shaken when strong women, including one of color, prove themselves, usurping their power. McCarthy, returning to an even grittier, decades earlier NYC than the one that served her so well in "Can You Ever Forgive Me?," is feminine and maternal, gaining confidence as her smart strategies pan out. Although McCarthy's already proven herself in drama, Haddish hasn't but does here, her performance tough and cagey. Moss's psychology is a little broader as written, but it is impossible not to enjoy watching her blossom when real love presents itself and Gleeson is simply outstanding as the taciturn yet tender hit man. D’Arcy James has the most complex role of the husbands, the Brennans' marriage the only one portrayed as good. Martindale is always a plus and Annabella Sciorra makes her mark as Coretti's wife rooting for his female competition.
Berloff's directorial debut is a strong one, her period production perfectly capturing grim, cramped apartments and small businesses on the mean streets of Hell's Kitchen. Costume, hair and makeup are all top notch. The film's soundtrack is stuffed with 70's rock from Guns 'n Roses, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Heart, Bob Seger and John Mellencamp with The Rolling Stones adding a little
Scorsese flavor and The Highwomen's cover of Fleetwood Mac's 'The Chain' giving it girl power.
Robin did not see this film.
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