Screenwriter Andrea Berloff Tries Her Hand At A Scorsese Like Gangster Flick In Her Directorial Debut Of DC & Vertigo’s Gangster Saga “The Kitchen”. With Three Fantastic Lead Performances & A Great Supporting Cast. It’s A Briskly Entertaining, Exciting & Violent Mob Film That Is A Unexpected Gem In The Summer Movie Fare.
Here we are for the second time in less than year, we have gotten a major motion picture about the wives of bad guys, who turn criminal when their spouses are taken out of commission. The first film was last years “Widows”, director Steve McQueen’s brilliant crime thriller that should have garnered multiple Oscar nominations.
Now here comes the not as gritty, stylish, nasty, exciting, briskly entertaining and heavy-handed gangster saga “The Kitchen”. Based on the DC/Vertigo comic book miniseries of the same name by by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle. While it isn’t remotely in the same league as the gritty, street-level cousin “Widows”, Berloff does keep the message of female empowerment a central theme.
“The Kitchen” is the directorial debut of Andrea Berloff, a screenwriter with an impressive resume that includes: “World Trade Center”, “Sleepless”, “Blood Father” and Oscar Nominee for best original screenplay “Straight Outta Compton”. Berloff’s undemanding crowd-pleaser about a trio of female gangsters in the late 1970s. Watching how these three women take over Hell’s Kitchen In New York and become empowered in the process, one only wishes it was based on a true story.
The films retro Warner Bros and New Line Cinema opening credits sets the mood to the period piece drama, as the three protagonists are introduced. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) is a mother of two, married to Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James) who takes her for granted. Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) is the “lazy” wife of Kevin (James Badge Dale), whose powerful mother (Margo Martindale) does not like her. And Claire (Elisabeth Moss) is the abused spouse of Rob (Jeremy Bobb).
Ruby, Kathy and Claire are left abandoned by their husbands when the FBI arrests them after a blown heist. In 1970s Hell’s Kitchen there aren’t a lot of opportunities for women that don’t involve working the corners, but it’s worse for wives and mothers. With nothing left to lose, the trio decide to take up the collections and protection racket for themselves, a decision which pisses off vile mob boss “Little Jackie”, but gains them the kind of power and money women are rarely afforded.
As the women take matters into their own hands then comes, “more money more problems”, as enemies quickly begin circling. The story itself kicks off fairly quickly right at the start, which is off putting as we’re barely allowed time to let the misogyny and racism of the era sink in before skulls start getting cracked or shot. Such as the case with Tiffany Haddish’s Ruby, as she’s dealing with being an outsider being a black woman married into the Irish mob. The isolation she feels is a serious motivator to some of her later actions, but because that aspect is only vaguely explored it’s disappointing.
“The Kitchen” knows what kind of film it is and it’s that kind of film that shows the good ole’ let’s show them gaining respect and a sense of self-worth scene. As they cut to a montage of money coming in and the women dancing at a night club. Berloff films these and other scenes in the exact cliched style of the genre. It leans into the ’70s vibe, with split screens and shots of 42nd Street marquees, all to the tune of what else? “Barracuda” by Heart.
“The Kitchen” shows that while Haddish can seem one-note, I assure you she gets better as the film goes along. It just shows that Haddish can channel her power of the dramatic role instead of her over the top comedic roles like in “Girls Trip”, as she doesn’t once rely on her ability to be hilarious. She oozes confidence and a sass attitude, and Haddish was born to wear her character’s period costumes.
As does Melissa McCarthy, who gets to have the biggest characterization and travel the widest emotional distance over the course of “The Kitchen”, going from soft to hard, lost to found and frightened to fearless. Goes to show with the right script, McCarthy can do anything. Elizabeth Moss really shows us what she can give to us onscreen. Whether showing emotions of deep hurt, deep anger or total fearlessness. “The Kitchen” gives us a different Elizabeth Moss then we’ve seen before. Moss’s performance as she turns to the dark side springs from within, from her history of surviving her abusive husband. When she hooks up with the equally disturbed Gabriel, nobody’s safe….
Neither is anyone else who shares the screen with Domhnall Gleeson, who steals every single scene he is in. Gleeson is Gabriel O’Malley, a psychotic Vietnam vet who returns to town and becomes the girls muscle. Gleeson’s skinny frame doesn’t make him a natural choice to play a violent hitman, but it’s also why he proves so effective in the role. He’s unexpected and enigmatic, and the chaotic relationship he forms with Moss’s Claire would make for a great “True Romance” style thriller.
Berloff’s script has some nifty u-turns and some curve balls thrown in. The first half of “The Kitchen” depicts the women’s rise, the second half shows how they maintain their positions Mobsters. While, Ruby, Kathy and Claire demonstrate their power in a meeting with a Brooklyn gangster (a scene-stealing Bill Camp) whose turf they invaded, they also must contend with their husbands getting out of jail and the FBI agents (Common and E.J. Bonilla) who are taking an interest in their criminal activities.
Director Andrea Berloff and the production team display a keen eye for the Hell’s Kitchen of the late 1970s, as the sidewalks are splattered with quick-shock moments and gruesome violence. Bodies get literally sent up the river at a surprising rate, with blood spilled quickly and suddenly. Anyone could get shot at any time, and some of the kills makes for an effective jolt to the senses. There is a fantastic sequence as Gabriel teaches the women how to dismember bodies before putting the pieces in garbage bags and dumping them in the river.
“The Kitchen” has echoes of mob classics “The Godfather” and “The Sopranos”, as Berloff tries to channel her inner Martin Scorsese. While “The Kitchen” is by no means as textured as the mentioned mob classics or is it a Scorsese gold standard, it offers a rich perspective on how women of the time would survive in such a male dominated world.
While “The Kitchen” has it’s problems, mainly Berloff’s script which is heavy handed and tries to take on too much. It is unfair to call it the worst film of the year as quite a few people have said it is. It delivers a 70s New York, in an unexpected but yet timely crime thriller that explores race, class and feminism. “The Kitchen”is a very good and deeply satisfying film, with a strong feature directorial-debut from Andrea Berloff. I really enjoyed this film and can’t wait to see what she cooks up next.
GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3 & 1/2 out of 5)