As a point of full disclosure, I have always felt African Americans have been underrepresented in Hollywood, specifically as leads in action movies. Think about it: how many semi-big to big-budget action movies have an African American lead, let alone an African American woman as a lead. When I first came across the trailer for Proud Mary It immediately piqued my interest. The trailer featured one of the most talented women in Hollywood, Taraji P. Henson, kicking what seemed like all types of ass. With the release of a movie like Proud Mary and the buzz surrounding Marvel’s Black Panther, it’s safe to assume that depending on how successful each movie became movie studios would realize that African Americans will come out in droves to support films that are tailored to them that aren’t written and directed by Tyler Perry (he’s the worst, but this isn’t about him so I will refrain from going into a rant… this time). Black Panther isn’t out until February, so the jury is still out on that, but Proud Mary is in theaters as we speak. If the future of African American led movies hinged on Proud Mary, the culture is in deep trouble. Not even magnificent Taraji P. Henson could save this film from falling completely flat.
Proud Mary circles around Mary (Henson), who is an assassin for a predominantly black mob outfit in Boston. During a trippy 70’s Blaxploitation-like intro, Mary assassinates a man in his own home. Mary is shocked to find out that there was a child in the house as well. Instead of taking the kid out, Mary leaves the kid to discover his father’s dead body. After a time jump, Mary is splitting time between killing folks for her father figure/boss/almost father-in-law Benny (Danny Glover) and creepily stalking the boy she orphaned Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston ). During the time jump we find out Danny is working for a Russian Mob Boss named Uncle (Xander Berkley) who is using Danny to run drugs and as a punching bag. Uncle’s latest attack on Danny gives Mary an opening, so she takes the boy to her home to care for him.
The wheels on the bus start to fall off as we are subjected to some of the most forced character interplays I have ever seen on film. Mary and Danny have zero chemistry. Each scene they share is meant to make the viewer believe there is a bond forming between Mary and Danny; Mary chastises Danny for his language and for not listening to her directions, Danny turns from annoying little brother to caring annoying little brother in pretty short order. Henson is a powerhouse and has no issue conveying the supposed emotion in each of these scenes. Winston’s Danny, not so much. I am not going pile on too much, but Winston’s performance was both wooden and uninspired. The movie tosses Winston a wobbly alley-oop- If he held his own and grounded the movie in the fashion his character was meant to this could have been a breakout role for him. Unfortunately, Winston bricked the dunk and Proud Mary suffered immensely because of it.
As the story unfolds Mary murders Uncle to protect Danny, which kicks off a mob war… for some reason (the script never explains if/why/when there was an issue between Benny’s crew and the Russians). In classic movie fashion, Mary decides that killing more people to cover her tracks is a great idea. Not shockingly it’s actually a terrible idea and things go from bad to worse. Benny’s son Tom (How to Get Away with Murder alum Billy Brown) quickly figures out that Danny isn’t who Mary said he is and everything comes tumbling down. In the film’s climax, Mary goes into full-on rampage mode. The action at the end of the film was a welcome addition to a strangely devoid of action-action movie. We only get to see Mary in all her glory 2.5 times in the film, which is a bizarre directing choice since this was sold to us as a badass action film. Director Babak Najafi made an active decision to focus on the relationship between Mary and Danny instead of making this movie what it should have been: John Wick. John Wick worked because it didn’t pretend to be something it wasn’t. The action in John Wick drove the plot forward. The action in Proud Mary, much like anything else that would have made this movie live up to its potential was an afterthought.
The Final Word->
Despite Taraji P. Henson’s best efforts, a hastily thrown together plot, nowhere near enough action, and no chemistry between any of the main players makes Proud Mary a movie that will not only NOT push the culture forward but may be used as the reasoning behind not greenlighting another film of this nature.