More Heat Needed in ‘The Kitchen’

by KB Burke on August 10, 2019

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Down] 

I was surprised to see DC Vertigo as one of the producers at the beginning of The Kitchen. Apparently, the film is based on a limited series graphic novel, published in 2015. Director/writer Andrea Berloff (World Trade Center, Straight Outta Compton) might have been better served by turning the reins over to someone else to write. Despite a stellar cast and other great elements, the film falls flat based on an improbable script.

New York City in the late 1970s is the backdrop for this film, specifically the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen. It’s less than a square mile but, back in the 70s, it was territorial land owned by Irish gangsters.

This area is a main character here as the grimy, crime-laden streets set the scenario for a crime job gone wrong for the husbands of Kathy Brennan (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby O’Carroll (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire Walsh (Elisabeth Moss). Facing hard times and little support from their “family,” the women decide to take matters (and the neighborhood) into their own hands. They get some help from a creepily intense hitman (Domhnall Gleeson) as they take over the neighborhood. But does everyone approve of their actions and their newly formed clout?

Their rise to neighborhood power is shown rather quickly by an overtly edited montage that made me look at the time and say, “They were struggling just a few minutes ago!” The first act is rushed to focus the majority of the film on their domination and the aftermath of the women being in positions of power.

By the third act of the film, things get repetitive and drawn out in comparison to the hurried beginning. Whereas films normally have an issue with an insufficient amount of editing, this one suffers from the exact opposite, which leads to an unbalanced experience. With little knowledge of that world or the times, you are left wondering: where’s the opposition to their rise? As the film takes dark turns, there’s no build-up to what preceded these twists. It’s just presented and, as an audience, you have to deal with it. You’re either forced to believe that these Irish gangster wives had it in them all along or that their training was lost somewhere in the editing of one of those montages we see.

All is not lost here. The three stars command the screen throughout the film. Melissa McCarthy has already shown that she can perform greatly in dramas (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) as well as comedies. No matter the role, Tiffany Haddish brings some comedic elements to her performances. There are scenes where she scowls directly toward another character and, despite the gravity of the situation, you are left on the verge of cracking a smile.

Elisabeth Moss steals almost every scene she’s in, as her character has the greatest arc throughout the movie. She exemplifies the demented valleys an abused woman can journey as she attempts to become her own person. In her scenes with Domhnall Gleeson, she portrays a soft side that’s been hiding beneath and adopts his gruesome way of dealing with conflicts.

There’s a cameo by Annabella Sciorra that exhibits a maternal feminism that runs unbridled throughout the film, especially by Ruby’s mother-in-law (Margo Martindale) who silently runs the mob behind the scenes. Bill Camp as an Brooklyn-based Italian boss and Common as an investigating FBI agent round out this high caliber cast.

There’s enough violence for action fans in this beautifully shot crime drama. Quietly, the CGI effects effortlessly transforms the screen back to the grimy, dirty streets of 1970’s New York City. The writing is truly the only place where it suffers. Still, if you’re a fan of any of the three main actors, it’s worth the watch to see them flex their acting skills.

KB is a native New Yorker/Midwest transplant who’s into tech, sports, and the arts, especially film and music. He still aspires to be a DJ in his other life. You can frequently catch him watching Hitchcock classics, film noir, and anything Star Wars.

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