I must preface my review by saying I have been looking forward to this film the moment it was announced and I’m glad to say that I’ve finally had the pleasure to see it (even with its lack of promotion). But despite that very serious shortcoming, when I entered the theater this afternoon, I was excited for the film to get underway and while it was not exactly what I was expecting, I enjoyed it nonetheless.
The film opens in a way that pays homage to the Blaxploitation films from the 1970s with the bright colored credits with flowy, yet bubbly font and music that coincided from the era. In the opener, we see Mary (Taraji P. Henson) getting ready for a job. She’s a hitwoman which is apparent from the very beginning as she takes out a man in his apartment with no mercy. However, a wrench is thrown in her plans when she discovers that the man she killed has a child. And while the young boy did not witness the attack, Mary leaves the apartment without cleaning up the entire mess – but as far as Mary sees it, children are off limits.
But much like many who face a guilty conscience, we want to atone. Mary does this by finding out about the orphaned boy, whose name is Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) and following him to make sure that he is alright. But Danny’s story has only become worse in the year since his father’s death and he’s starting to go down a dark path he might not be able to escape from. Mary finds Danny injured in an alleyway and takes him in. While she’s caring for Danny, she realizes he’s working for a man named Uncle (Xander Berkeley) who is part of a rival crime family.
Knowing she cannot leave Danny in Uncle’s care, she pays the mobster a visit to teach him a lesson in childcare and manners. Suffice it to say, the meeting does not end well and it sets off a chain of events that not only put her life and Danny’s at risk, but it also does not bode well for her job and her employer, fellow crime family head honcho, Benny (Danny Glover) and his son and her former flame, Tom (Billy Brown). Mary is fighting an uphill battle if she ever wants to get out of her life as an assassin and keep Danny safe.
So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty. While I enjoyed the Babak Najafi directed flick, I wish that it was a bit longer and I also wish that we got to see more Taraji as the film centers around her character. That being said, Henson completely slays as Mary. She is absolutely believable as the tough, but warm-hearted hitwoman looking for a way out. She perfectly comes in with comedic timing when she has to and is the consummate butt kicker in all black everything. She commands attention any time she is in the frame and her interactions with Winston are great. The duo have great chemistry with one another and you’re certainly rooting for the two to get a happy ending throughout the film.
That being said, there were a few things that could have been done differently. For example, the characters of Glover and Brown are the typical, uninspired head-honcho types and while they provide some foil for Mary, you could have interchanged the pair with any other actors and ended up with similar results. Also, there was hardly enough Mary. I went into the theater believing the film would be something similar to Atomic Blonde or John Wick – with Mary kicking a** and taking names, but I was surprised to see that they focused more on the family drama aspect.
Now, while I did enjoy this and was glad that it delved deeper into a story than just Mary shooting up everyone in her sight, it should not have taken until the third act to get into most of the action. The progression was a bit slow to get to the boiling point and the lackluster secondary characters did not help much. However, the performances of Henson and Winston most certainly make up for the film’s slow points. As does the music – from The Temptations to Tina Turner, the soundtrack will have you dancing in your seat and while the film is set in today’s era, the throwback jams fit the mood of the film perfectly.
Ultimately, I did want more action, because when those scenes did happen, they were a sight to behold and most definitely one of the film’s highlights, I still enjoyed Proud Mary. Never could I imagine that a film about an assassin could have as much heart as it did but Proud Mary surprised me. I’m glad to add this film to the bevy of female-led action flicks that we have been getting more of over the past few years and I am exceptionally happy because Mary is a black woman. Taraji P. Henson, you did that.