The Kitchen (2019)
The Kitchen (2019)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: August 9th, 2019 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Andrea Berloff Actors: Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish, Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian d’Arcy James, Jeremy Bobb, Bill Camp, Margo Martindale, Common, Annabella Sciorra

 


 

“T

his is a man’s world …” croons (to James Brown’s lyrics) the lead-in music, setting up the premise for a turf war in 1978’s Hell’s Kitchen in New York. Three gangster husbands, Rob (Jeremy Bobb), Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James), and Kevin (James Badge Dale), plan one last heist before getting into the loans business – but not before physically, verbally, and psychologically abusing their wives, Claire (Elisabeth Moss), Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), and Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), respectively. Even the two FBI agents (Common and E.J. Bonilla) staked outside the shop about to be knocked off aren’t enough to stop the trio of shotgun-toting crooks. But the horde of police cars just seconds behind the armed robbery turn out to be a suitable match.

When Rob, Jimmy, and Kevin receive, fittingly, three-year sentences, their wives are left to fend for themselves. “They’re gonna take care of us.” The Irish mob is supposed to look after the women, but the thin envelopes of cash swept under their doors isn’t even enough to pay rent. And regular jobs aren’t much of an option, considering that employers aren’t keen on hiring women – especially those with children. “Besides gettin’ hit, what other skills do you got?”

As it turns out, Little Jackie Quinn (Myk Watford), the current head honcho of the mob, isn’t very good at keeping up on collecting money from local businesses for protection. Tired of being knocked around and treated poorly, Claire, Kathy, and Ruby decide to take over the gangster biz, forming new alliances, providing muscle, and piling up cash in the process. But will they succeed in crafting an empire among formidable male opposition – as well as the looming return of their husbands?

The women are not only sympathetic, they’re inspirational. There might not be much of a moral compass in their rapid conversion to intimidation and violence, but they’re up against such staggering odds that even their little wins are wholly satisfying. It certainly helps that the three leads provide remarkable performances, with McCarthy proving once again that she’s stronger in a serious dramatic role than in her typical slapstick comedies. Here, humor works its way naturally into morbid scenarios, but there’s nothing outrightly comical about the rise to supremacy in Hell’s Kitchen. The stakes are quite high and the catharsis in crime is jolting.

A collection of superb supporting players is also noteworthy, including Domhnall Gleeson as an unhinged ex-military thug (and the number one scene-stealer, which is almost a shame since he’s surrounded by powerful women); Margo Martindale as a hateful, tough puppetmaster; and Bill Camp as the leader of the Brooklyn mob – all characters boasting surprising revelations. But the film’s greatest quality is that of unpredictability, not only with the personas but also with their actions and their deaths. Curiously, the most shocking moments come from spontaneous bloodshed, and not from the purposeful, unguessable twists that require tiresome flashbacks or explanations. When “The Kitchen” allows the audience to see the events for themselves, it’s riveting; when it holds clues back for an “aha!” moment, the amusement deflates.

Nevertheless, the many sequences in which boorish, overconfident men (always a source of excellent villainy) attempt to get the upper hand against the ladies – and fail – render consistent entertainment. Plus, the historical setting is handled sharply, while the cynical viewpoints on justice, honor, and righteousness elevate the boldness and intensity of these commanding female hoods. The parting shots could have been snappier (“The Kitchen” desperately needed the ferocity of a cut-to-black closer), but the drama, storytelling, and performances are top-notch.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10