Here’s the thing. In the genre of “gun-fu,” we’ve had a few stellar entries lately (John Wick) and a few disappointing ones (Atomic Blonde). When the trailer came out for Proud Mary, showcasing Taraji P. Henson as a badass assassin, I wanted this movie to be stellar. Is it?
Taraji P. Henson stars as Mary, a trained killer who finds herself in a sticky situation when she leaves a potential witness alive, a young boy (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) whose father was into some bad stuff. Well, the boy turns to a life of crime himself and Mary believes she’s somewhat to blame, triggering an adventure for her to defend the boy and eliminate any hostiles looking for him. We also have Mary’s former lover and also a deadly assassin, Tom (played by Billy Brown). Tom’s father (Danny Glover) runs the “business” they’re all a part of and has a stake in keeping this young boy quiet.
As the lead, Taraji P. Henson is convincing, though the script and fight choreography do her a disservice. She would have shone in a better movie, which is unfortunate. The young Jahi Di’Allo Winston also has a few great moments but is let down by the movie itself.
What didn’t work?
Yes, you read that right. There was only one paragraph for the good stuff, which unfortunately means that this movie is a huge letdown. Let me explain why.
Let’s start on the page. This movie has three credited writers and all of them are unknown and have no experience in this genre, which is obvious when you realize that this movie only has one decent action sequence and the rest is mild-mannered drama. The writers do have experience in soap operas, so I guess that makes sense.
The plot itself is formulaic and predictable, tied together with melodramatic scenes with little consequence. It’s slow and boring, for the most part. If you want Taraji’s version of John Wick, you’re going to be incredibly disappointed here. She spends more time wallowing in what she’s done, than actually doing it.
Okay, so let’s pretend that we’re shooting these fight sequences and we know that we have to make them amazing, since they’re rare in this movie. There are 48 stunt performers and I’m guessing they each got to do one action because this movie is calm and I have no idea why 48 people were needed. And the quality of these few action sequences? Not good. The cuts are quick, the fights look clumsy, and overall it’s completely unimpressive.
The editing is subpar in general, not just the fight scenes. Moments linger forever that should just be a quick shot. This movie feels long and slow because of editing that could’ve used a few extra eyes to actually trim and cut the fat.
And here’s a weird complaint that I’ve never brought up before but I know it’s an issue in other movies. It’s a special skill to properly capture a dark-skinned actor on camera and this movie did not do it at all. After seeing great examples in Moonlight and the HBO series Insecure, I’ve seen what it can do and here, we have Danny Glover against a bright open window and you can barely even make out his shape, nonetheless facial features. It happens throughout the entire movie, where overuse of natural light makes it near impossible to make out the actors, especially those with darker skin. I don’t know how they looked at those shots and thought, “Yes, that looks the way I intended.” Someone wasn’t paying attention and/or didn’t care about this movie at all.
I wanted Proud Mary to be amazing. A woman of color in a badass action movie, I wanted this to set a new standard. However, Taraji is let down here by everyone around her. The script is predictable and bland and ultimately lacks the action necessary. The action they do have is lackluster and edited poorly. The lighting is subpar, the editing is lazy, and this movie ultimately fails on almost every front.