By: Justin Cohen, Assistant Copy Editor (@justinthat1kid)
Proud Mary’s opening scene is an homage to blaxploitation films of the 1970s. It is dripping with neon orange and bumping a funky bassline as Mary applies her makeup and dons her platinum blonde wig. However, the callbacks to the genre of old end after this introductory scene—along with the film’s sense of style. What follows is a fairly straightforward action movie propelled by warring families that is just… okay.
Directed by Babak Najafi and starring Golden Globe Award winner and Howard alumna Taraji P. Henson and Danny Glover, this crime thriller boasts a callback to 70s film era of blaxploitation films, but is really only your standard shoot ‘em up flick with a woman on a quest for redemption. When Mary, played by Henson, has to atone for her past sins by adopting an orphaned drug runner, her life begins to get progressively more complicated as the snowballing effect of her actions leads to more and more dire consequences.
A strong performance is delivered by Henson, which is to be expected, but an unexpected scene stealer is Tom, played by Billy Brown, an actor who previously had bit parts in films such as Cloverfield (2008) and Star Trek (2009). Brown’s emotionally charged role as a defiant son of a crime boss sees him as conflicted between running the family business and his father’s legacy and remaining on good terms with the woman he loves. His expressive face and voice do well to sell the inner battle his character must be feeling.
However, child actor Jahi Di’allo Winston is not a heavy enough hitter to believably deliver the material he is given. His chemistry with Henson is natural enough. The actors bounce jokes off each other effortlessly and their relationship seems to grow as their characters’ do, but when it comes to emotional scenes, Winston just does not have the acumen for delivering the content of the script. However, he is still young and with time he is sure to grow into an actor to watch.
One jarring issue that Proud Mary suffers from is pacing. Emotionally charged scenes are not given enough time to ruminate with the audience and thus fall flat. Shocking moments are set up and enacted within seconds for the sake of moving on to the next shocking moment.
The action scenes are enjoyable enough, however they are not much deeper than that. The camera focuses just enough on one piece of action for you to realize what’s happening in a gunfight or car chase, however nothing creative is done with the cinematography nor the choreography. There are no over the top stylish moments that recent action films delivered. No flashy flips and jumps from films like Atomic Blonde and no creative use of music as a backdrop to the action like Baby Driver provided; just your run-of-the-mill main character shoots and bad guys die, which is passable to move the plot forward, but when action is the main draw of the film this problem is noticeable.
All-in-all, Proud Mary is an enjoyable 90-minute romp that would have been ignorable if not for the heavy-hitting performances of Henson and Brown.