Proud Mary

Babak Najafi (director), Dan Laustsen (cinematographer), Evan Schiff (editor), John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal and Steve Antin (writers)
Taraji P. Henson, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Billy Brown, Danny Glover (cast)
January 12, 2018

Proud Mary is set in Boston where Mary (Taraji P. Henson) is a hitwoman working for a crime family headed by a man named Benny (Danny Glover). Within the film’s first opening minutes, we watch as Mary gets ready to execute a sanctioned hit. After killing the man in his apartment, she discovers that he doesn’t live alone, as his son continues to play a video game in the other room, unaware of what happened. It’s clear that Mary is distraught, and a year later the two cross paths once more.

I was very excited to see Proud Mary when I saw the trailer this past July. It felt like John Wick or Atomic Blonde, while nodding to the black woman who came before Mary: the lovely Pam Grier. In fact, the opening credits, as well as the marketing materials for the film, evoked the aesthetic of ’70s blaxploitation.

Proud Mary. January 2018. Directed by Babak Najafi. Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Billy Brown and Danny Glover.

But as the release got closer, the marketing push for the film seemed too lacklustre. Many on Twitter were asking why it wasn’t getting an adequate push from Screen Gems (a division of Sony Pictures). At the Daily Beast, Ira Maddison III wrote about the concerns, and the overall lack of support of black actors, actresses, and projects. In fact, tickets didn’t go on sale in Toronto until this past Wednesday, days before it was set to release.

But even with these obstacles in place, I was still determined to go and very excited. Sadly, Proud Mary didn’t live up to the latter. It wasn’t a good movie.

The first thing I noticed was the pacing. I’m not sure how much was due to bad editing or just a poor script, but the story felt off. It fast-tracked through setting the scene (i.e. where are we? who are the crime families? etc.) and forced the audience through the motions before taking a moment to pause for the heart-warming scenes between Mary and Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), the boy whose father was killed by Mary a year prior. In fact, Danny had far more character development than everyone else, including Mary, which causes the exposition to weigh this film down. I will say that the actors involved did well with what they were given; it’s just upsetting because they’re all so talented.

This leads to my biggest problem with the experience: I was given a different movie than advertised. I’m not opposed to a film that isn’t filled with wall-to-wall action with some thoughtful, quiet moments, and if the execution was great, I’d be into it. However, I decided to watch the trailer again after seeing the movie and I was NOT happy.

So, 98% of the trailer is made up of the first five or so minutes of the film and then the last 10 to 20 minutes. I think there were a total of three action scenes in the entirety of the film. That’s it. I can honestly say that the only scene that I truly enjoyed was when Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” was playing as Mary shot, punched, kicked, and generally served some satisfying ass-kicking. The trailer sold me on a movie it never intended to give me, which is incredibly disappointing because that one scene at the end had me yearning for an action flick starring Henson. She’s been excellent in the past in similar action roles like Person of Interest, where she played a detective, and I wish she was given a chance to shine in the way Keanu Reeves had in John Wick.

Does that mean it deserved the lack of promotion it got? No! I’ve seen equally bad and mediocre action films starring white men that one, promised me a movie that they didn’t deliver and/or two, had a promotion machine behind it. Promoting a film has nothing to do with how good it is but how much money a studio is willing to invest in it. Overall, I wasn’t happy with the end product, but I’m even more disappointed in the lack of interest to help this film succeed, despite the excitement it garnered on social media. I hope Henson does more action films because she’s amazing, even if Proud Mary wasn’t.