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Saturday, January 13, 2018

MOVIE REVIEW/Proud Mary
When Tina Sings, The Action Swings


Taraji P. Henson in the action drama "Proud Mary", directed by Babak Najafi. 
Dana Stabard/Screen Gems
       

by
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Saturday, January 13, 2018

Creedence Clearwater Revival's song "Proud Mary" became arguably Tina Turner's greatest hit in the 1970s as her rendition of the CCR song rocked and socked.  That rendition gets its due again in Babak Najafi's "Proud Mary", a quiet action drama until the rock-'em-sock'-em gun battles and shoot 'em-up theater explodes into overdrive.  When Tina sings in Mr. Najafi's "Proud Mary", the action swings, and swings hard.

Boston is the setting for the action.  Mary (Taraji P. Henson), an assassin, takes care of Danny, a precocious, orphaned boy who sasses her often.  Mary wants to escape the crime family she is a member of after a killing occurs that is not sanctioned by the avuncular family boss Benny (Danny Glover).  Mary has other entanglements including Tom (Billy Brown), an ex-boyfriend who is the junior commander of the family and Benny's son.  For Mary the past will catch up with the present. 

Mary claims to be the mothering type but leaving a cabinet full of guns unlocked with orphan minor Danny doesn't exactly stake her claim.  And what's child welfare services to do if they find out Mary has left orphan Danny all alone?  Or if they find out anything worse? 

In fairness "Proud Mary" is a decent movie, and Ms. Henson is so adeptly up to the task of balancing a thoughtful, tangible action hero with sex appeal and imbuing her character with maternal instincts.  Having said that, it seems stereotypical that a Black woman is called upon to be a mother in an action film, an action mammy (that would be too unkind to say.) 

More precisely, as I was thinking as I watched "Proud Mary", written by John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal and Steven Antin -- why hasn't Hollywood scrapped the mammy model for Black women?  After all, Charlize Theron didn't have to be a mother in "Atomic Blonde", she just kicked as much male ass as she could, and without apology.

I also wondered if a scene where there's a mild twinkle in young Danny's eye when he sees guns that look bigger than him doesn't also float a subtle stereotype about Black boys and criminality.  It seems Danny is allured by the gun culture cabinet Mary has left unlocked.  Add to that the hoodie that Danny doesn't want to shed and it all seems very racially stilted, stereotyped and one-dimensional.  Sometimes "Proud Mary" accessorizes "types".

"Proud Mary" gives Ms. Henson a platform to do maximum kick-ass damage in the title role, and she does so proficiently.  Mary as a character also shows that the action game isn't her cup of tea.  Her remorsive pulses are revealed, and Ms. Henson makes Mary more than just a killing machine.  She makes her Mary human, with a full heart.  Clad in black leather with boots to match, Mary, as she warns her minor charge, "don't play".

I only wish "Proud Mary" cinematographer Dan Laustsen had played with the lighting of Mr. Glover's face.  In some scenes the actor's face is severely underlit.  Many white cinematographers have been so notoriously poor at lighting Black faces on the big screen.  One has to wonder if this is deliberate, racial bias, insensitivity or accidental.  It is a little of all four in my view. 

The film's major wrinkle, aside from the make-up tears that look dried on for one character, is the editing.  Cuts are made far too quickly within many scenes.  The film's poignant scenes, ones meant to be emotive cues, are too often abbreviated.  "Proud Mary" needed to breathe free, and one might understand why Ms. Henson's charismatic character wants to escape the crime family she has been adopted into.

It is also too bad that the amazing Margaret Avery has only a little screen time.  She is one of America's treasures, and the new generation that will enjoy gunfights, tough talk and vigorous action rumble, should have got a prolonged look at one of the greats.


Also with: Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Xander Berkeley, Neal McDonough, Rade Serbedzija.

"Proud Mary" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence.  The film's running time is one hour and 29 minutes. 


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