Before getting into what I liked about this rough, tough, gritty, violent movie about the Irish mob in late-1970s New York City, I need to share a bewildering, hopefully open-minded question about one of the characters, and the person chosen to play the part.
The film is based on a limited run 2014 series of DC comic books, telling the story of three mobsters who were caught in the acts of robbery and attacking some cops, and sent to prison, leaving their wives to fend for themselves. The wives’ solution: pick up where the men left off, but do the job better.
The question - some will take this as me being controversial, just for asking it - is why did the filmmakers find it necessary to change one of the white wives in the comic to a black wife? Taking nothing away from Tiffany Haddish, who veers sharply and successfully from her mostly comic previous roles to the completely serious one of Ruby, why is she in this film? The thought that anyone would buy the acceptance of a black woman being part of the Irish mob “family” in New York in the late-1970s is just ludicrous.
This is not a movie cut from the cloth of comic book sensibilities; it’s a straightforward, if offbeat, story of crime, family values, friendship, business, and revenge, peopled by characters you can believe ... except for her.
Still, I liked it.
The title can be taken two ways: It’s set in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. Get it? The Kitchen. And most of the male characters firmly believe that a woman’s place is in the kitchen.
But that’s not the opinion of the trio of friends Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Claire (Elisabeth Moss), and Ruby. Though they’ve sat around doing what they were told to do for years, when their husbands are sent up on a three-year sentence, they soon realize that the Irish mobsters still on the streets are going to welsh on their promise to help them out. What to do? Self-proclaimed leader Kathy suggests that they band together and start up their own collection for protection business.
This, of course, doesn’t sit well with psychotic and misogynistic mob boss Jackie (Myk Watford), who tells them to back off, or to nearby slick and dangerous Italian mob boss Alfonso Coretti (Bill Camp), who is quietly threatening.
But these are three strong women. They were friends before these difficult circumstances developed, now they find themselves really bonding, more so when they decide to throw caution to the wind and go forward with the crooked protection racket, thereby cutting into the territory and pockets of Jackie and Coretti. When they get the added help of Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson), a calm but vicious hood who has just returned to town, things start rolling.
While the story stays focused on the reactions surrounding the women’s actions, the film works equally well as a character study and a look at the arc each of them follows. Kathy had accepted her fairly dull lot in life and was grateful to have a loving husband and kids. Now she’s extremely proud of running this criminal endeavor which is helping to clean up the neighborhood. Ruby had put up with her creepy husband’s shenanigans. Now she’s experiencing a taste of power, and taking things into her own hands. Claire was living a horrible existence, regularly being beaten by her alcoholic brute of a husband. Now she discovers that she’s quite good at and actually enjoys committing sadistic acts.
They’re conniving criminals, they’re unrepentant killers, and they’re sharp businesswomen. It’s difficult to root for this sort of character, but we’re mostly on their side for most of the film. The body count piles up among both cops and mobsters, and it would help to have a scorecard to keep track of the funerals. But even with all of the nastiness going on, the film is anchored by the three fine performances from the three “good guy” women.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Written and directed by Andrea Berloff
With Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish, Domhnall Gleeson