When the first trailer for Proud Mary dropped last year, my hope was that we were getting the next iteration in a series of “John Wick”-esque rehashes, à la 2017’s Atomic Blonde. The difference this time would be the focus on a strong black female protagonist. On paper, that’s the kind of tweak that should inspire plenty of good material—just different enough so that it doesn’t feel like a retread but not so different that the concept turns audiences away. Instead of any of that, we got another in a long line of examples for why one should never trust a film’s marketing. For something that was promoted as a hitman story with hints of blaxploitation leanings (minus the genre’s more overt tropes) and touch of self-awareness, Proud Mary turns out to be nothing more than one solid YouTube clip surrounded by 1 hour and 23 minutes of slog.
Of the talent brought together for this film, Taraji P. Henson is the only one who seems intent on delivering a performance that actually goes beyond the words the screenwriter gave her. She tries to make the material sing, but it never quite reaches the levels of melodrama you hope for (think Cookie Lyon on Empire or her upcoming role in Acrimony [maybe I shouldn’t give those trailers too much credit either]). As for the rest of the cast, none of them really musters a performance worth mentioning. They are all pretty forgettable, much like this film’s plot. Additional shaming is warranted for the complete waste of Danny Glover and Neal McDonough as the antagonists.
While we’re on the subject of Danny Glover, the man completely phones in his performance as Benny, and I mean that literally. I’d even go so far to say he was miscast. For someone that’s supposed to be this imposing, calculating leader of a Boston-based criminal organization, Glover never once commands the room or comes across as a menacing presence despite what the rest of the characters on screen tell you. Every line reading he utters reeks of someone who doesn’t want to be there or doesn’t know he was just thrown in front of a camera, which is probably why you’ll be able to detect so much ADR when Glover’s Benny enters the frame.
To add insult to injury, the DP and lighting teams don’t do Glover any favors either. In one particular moment near the end of the film, Henson’s Mary confronts Benny, gun to his chest. It’s a pivotal scene because Mary is on the verge of crossing a line she can’t walk back. Unfortunately it falls flat because the staging is so poorly conceived. The room’s horrid lighting makes it a challenge to even see Glover’s acting opposite Henson. It’s so poorly executed that I’m left to wonder if Glover pulled a Brando on set (i.e. force the director’s hand so you can’t see his lips in order to just dub over it in post).
By the time we reach the titular “Proud Mary” moment at the film’s end, it’s too little, too late. The film’s nearly over by that point and said moment (no matter how much Tina Turner you pepper it with) doesn’t do enough to redeem that hour-plus that came before it.
If you’re even slightly curious about Proud Mary, just wait until it hits streaming in a few months time… then fast forward to the end.