STARRING: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian d’Arcy James, James Badge Dale, Jeremy Bobb, Bill Camp, Margo Martindale, Common, E.J Bonilla, Annabella Sciorra, Myk Watford, Wayne Duvall, Pamela Dunlap, John Sharian, Brian Tarantina, James Ciccone, Stephen Singer, Brandon Uranowitz, Nicholas Zoto and Maren Heary
The wives of New York gangsters in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s continue to operate their husbands’ rackets after they’re locked up in prison.
The film is set in Hell’s Kitchen in the late 1970’s, focusing on three housewives whose mobster husbands are sent to prison by the FBI. Left with little but a sharp ax to grind, the ladies take the Irish mafia’s matters into their own hands–proving unexpectedly adept at everything from running the rackets to taking out the competition… literally.
The Kitchen is a film based on the DC Vertigo comic of the same name, which is adapted and directed by Andrea Berloff. Andrea Berloff’s previous work includes writing the screenplays for Straight Outta Compton, Blood Father and Sleepless. With The Kitchen, Berloff makes her directorial feature debut. Taking place in 1978 Hell’s Kitchen, New York, three housewives see their mobsters husbands being arrested by the FBI and being handled a three year prison sentence. When the new head of the mob promises them financial comfort, yet gives them a tiny pittance, the women take it upon themselves to follow rackets that aren’t paying up and start building up a momentum of power that leads them to running Hell’s Kitchen, thus placing them on the radar of the boss of the Italian crime family in Brooklyn.
I’m not too familiar with the Vertigo comic, but following on with the premise of the wives having to step up in the absence of their spouses being similar in vein to Steve McQueen’s Widows last year, I was definitely interested in seeing how it was executed despite the critical slating it’s been given. The film does have a few moments that provide a spark of interest for the audience, particularly once it adds Domnhall Gleeson’s character to the journey of the three women looking to maintain a sense of power in the mob. His character, Gabriel, is demonstrating to them about how to get rid of their competition accordingly, right down to how to properly dismember the remains and while the film plays tonally as a drama, I found this to be darkly comedic. There’s a particular pivotal scene in the final act that provides a dramatic weight that was missing in the course of the film leading up to that point. Out of the three leads, Elisabeth Moss has the most material to sink her teeth into as Claire Walsh. We first see her in the aftermath of suffering physical abuse from her husband Rob and over the course of the film becomes a confident and calculated killer. Her chemistry with Domnhall Gleeson’s Gabriel is interesting to follow and see how it unfolds over the course of the film. Melissa McCarthy also gives a good performance as Kathy Brennan, a woman who dives into the mob world as she has no where else to turn in order to provide for her children whilst her husband is in prison. Of the supporting cast, Bill Camp brings gravitas to the limited time he’s on screen as Brooklyn Italian mafia boss Alfonso Coretti.
For the solid ensemble this film possesses, it’s disappointing that the script and story structure just provides little to no energy for them to work with. There’s a lot of frontin’ going on here with people saying things along the lines of pay-up or else and you don’t want to mess with us, yet we’re given no meaty scene to cement a moment in which these three women should not be messed with by anyone within their crime family, let alone outside of it, because the main scene that cements the beginning of getting their foot into that world leads immediately into multiple montages (and there’s a lot) in the film and we’re suppose to believe they have all the power but yet never believe in it at all, regardless of the dialogue they deliver. This leads to the film adding another development into the overall plot leading into the final act that adds another dimension to how you view the film, yet if I didn’t believe in them becoming heads of the crime family, I definitely don’t believe in this added sub-plot. Some of the dialogue is pretty weak, generic and the direction from Berloff just lacks that energy to engage my interest. That probably comes down to a budget or production timing issue as there’s a lot of moving on the sidewalks, a lot of shots of people walking and talking on sidewalks and there doesn’t feel like any flow or urgency with the majority of them. While she has her moments, I thought Tiffany Haddish didn’t work for me here in this dramatic role. I can’t tell if it’s due to being oversaturated with her comedic roles in recent years or if the material she has to work with doesn’t help her here. A lot of the ensemble feel wasted here, from Margo Martindale to James Badge Dale and Jeremy Bobb.
An interesting premise that doesn’t live up to its potential and lets down a talented ensemble. While The Kitchen has a few decent moments here and there, with some decent performances from Elisabeth Moss, Melissa McCarthy, Domnhall Gleeson and Bill Camp, it just lacked the energy to make me care about the story or the majority of the characters and becomes another run-of-the-mill crime drama, with probably one of the most underwhelming closes to a film this year.