By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
I love a good gangster flick and as a film fanactic, I have seen plenty of them. From Howard Hawks’ Scarface to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (among several others), I have always been enthralled with organized crime cinema. The one great thing that sets apart The Kitchen from most other crime sagas, is the fact that the lead characters are women. Based on the DC Vertigo Comics series, The Kitchen offers a glimpse of gangster pulp fiction from the perspective of women gangsters. This singular aspect makes for a powerful and compelling story, except for the problem that everything else seems all too familiar and obvious. The Kitchen may offer women a hearty dose of female empowerment; however, it would haver been so much better had it not followed such a conventional approach.
The year is 1978 and New York’s Hell’s Kitchen is a mess. Irish mobsters Kevin O’Carroll (James Badge Dale), Jimmy Brennan (Brian d’Arcy James), and Rob Walsh (Jeremy Bobb) have been busted and convicted of armed robbery and are set to serve a lengthy prison sentence. This leaves their wives Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) and Claire (Elisabeth Walsh) in dire straits as they must struggle to survive without any support from the new boss, Little Jackie (Myk Watford). Because most of the neighborhood is unhappy with the new leadership, Ruby, Kathy, and Claire take it upon themselves to assume leadership of The Kitchen through any means necessary.
Based on the comic series by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle, writer/director Andrea Berloff has made a solud and entertaining film with The Kitchen. I absolutely love the feminist twist to the gangster story and also enjoyed some of the surprises it offers, but couldn’t help, but feel the familiarity of the movie’s tropes and cliches. I would’ve preferred that the movie made a bolder statement against organized crime and the repercussions of the lifestyle. Still, Berloff’s development of the characters and their journeys do make this movie compelling enough to have an impact.
I was also rather pleased and impressed with the cast, particularly the lead actresses. It came as no surprise that both Melissa McCarthy and Elisabeth Moss are fantastic in their roles. It was Tiffany Haddish who truly blew me away with her dramatic turn as Ruby. The usually comedic actress gets serious and powerful as Ruby O’Carroll, a mob wife who was never truly accepted in “the family” because of her Black heritage.
And though I have my complaints about the story and writing, I still strongly recommend The Kitchen. It is definitely refreshing to see a gangster picture that deals with female empowerment and racial disparity. It isn’t a film I’d recommend for a full priced ticket, but one that would make for a damn fine matinee.