Film Review: ‘Proud Mary’

It’s an exciting time in cinema, with the stage being set for a wider range of heroes on the big screen. Fans of this movement would rightly be excited by the prospect of Proud Mary, featuring Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson as an action hero in the mould of Pam Grier.

At least, that’s what the trailer promised…

Henson stars as Mary, a contract killer who rescues orphaned teenager Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) from a life of crime that she inadvertently forced him into years earlier. Having triggered a war between crime outfits, she must use all her wits to keep Danny safe, and find her own redemption.

The film opens in the style of a 1970’s ‘blaxploitation’ genre films – think Shaft, Foxy Brown, or the more recent Jackie Brown and Black Dynamite. Very cool graphics, set to Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.

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The strange thing is that, other than a groovy title sequence, there’s nothing about that era in this film. It’s just a below-average crime drama, which probably wouldn’t have made it to cinemas had it not had a star of Henson’s calibre.

Proud Mary review: Taraji P. Henson deserves better than this below average thriller
The promotion for Proud Mary promises a 70’s style thriller that never really transpires (Image: Sony Pictures)

Instead of stylish camerawork and killer soundtrack, we move from one scene to another with little fuss. She has strained get-togethers with shady mafia types, the occasional shoot out, and becomes a surrogate mother of sorts to her young co-star. The lack of feeling put into the dialogue makes for a plodding pace, and a ‘so what?’ finale. It’s hard to get anxious about the fate of characters you don’t care about.

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The idea of Henson as a cool action hero is something most movie fans can get excited for, but she needed a much better film than this. She carries herself with the confidence and menace of an assassin, and gives the action scenes an edge. However, she’s bogged down in bad dialogue and excruciating scenes such as bonding with young Danny over how they like their hot dogs.

Similarly adrift is Danny Glover, a master-stroke of casting as Mary’s boss and someone who looks very much at home in a big chair giving out the orders. However, he’s saddled with a big book of mafia cliches that prevent him from making the impact he might have.

While it has its moments, Proud Mary is sorely missed opportunity. For all it’s negative connotations, ‘Blaxploitation’ cinema is often praised for its stronger female roles, and a 21st Century tweak on that classic style would have been the perfect launch pad for a different type of hero. Instead, we have a film whose only unique characteristic is a well designed poster.

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Proud Mary is out on 23 March.

MORE: A Wrinkle In Time review: A film with a few wrinkles still to be ironed out

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