Nothing to be Proud of Mary

Proud Mary is not a movie that exists for a purpose except to be stylish. But it fails even there and falls into a politically incorrect territory. There was little to stir Christian Tesfaye to give any higher than 4 out of 10 stars.

Proud Mary has an exquisite poster. It has the protagonist, played by Taraji P. Henson, in an above the neck shot with what from afar looks like an afro hairdo. Upon closer inspection though, what looks like Henson’s hair are stills from the film in one of the most aesthetic movie posters I have ever seen.

It is a trailer for the movie by itself. The first thing one notices is the abundance of guns, betraying that this movie is full of action sequences, but not just that. There seems to be a sort of style, as in there is not that much of realism here, but enough panache to create disbelief.

Add to this a number of the poster’s other stills. There is a duo dancing, a teenager looking back, many African-Americans and Henson herself showing skin. It almost fools one into thinking that Proud Mary is an epic mix of The Godfather, Leon: The Professional, Shaft, Nikita and the Kill Bill films.

The movie is nothing of that nature. It operates in the dark, without purpose, towards a third act that is painfully unsurprising. It is akin to watching a monkey play Mozart – one admires the ambition but is left greatly saddened by the dramatic lack of talent or effort in execution.

Henson plays Mary, a character that is not any prouder than other female protagonists that take out an immense number of henchmen or care for a teenager. The movie starts as Mary is getting ready for a hit. She does pushups, showers, puts on her dresses, straps up on a gun holster and heads out into the metaphorical night.

Her troubles start then when she assassinates a man she believed lived alone but finds that he has a son after she takes him out. A year passes, and Mary still has not forgotten about the child, Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), that she orphaned. He is now a messenger for the uncle of a powerful Russian gangster, not to mention her boss’ chief rival.

With the best of intentions, which is guilt, she decides to take Danny in and bargain with the uncle. Things quickly get out of hand though, where she kills the uncle, and her crime family is suspected of the murder by the Russians. Growing fonder of the boy, she tries to leave the crime life, at the same time fending off the Russians and her own crime family that does not want to see her go.

The director is Babak Najafi, who is best known for his movie London Has Fallen, which is a film that was worse than its predecessor, Olympus Has Fallen, which in itself is more likely to inspire apathy in an audience than any awe.

It suffices to say that there is no improvement here. If anything, Najafi appears to be going backwards. He directs with about the same enthusiasm as a person that has been forced on the job. There is no humour, no substance and, for all of that investment, not even style in this film.

And I cannot say it was different with the actors. Henson performs with the singular aim of becoming the next big female star. There are some scenes where she seems like she has put in the effort, but her overall performance remains mostly shallow. Her co-stars are even worse, except perhaps Danny Glover, who plays a crime boss, who makes up for his lacklustre performance by the sheer weight of his Hollywood legacy.

What I least liked about the film is the concept itself.

Why does the protagonist’s single reason for change need to be her maternal instincts?

It is almost stereotypical, in that this is a movie that says to us the means to getting a woman to settle down is to make her be with child. It could have been that Mary just got fed up with the crime family. Or perhaps she wanted to try out another profession, one that causes less heartbreak to people, such as banking.

Of course, I am rarely one to lament that a film be politically correct. At the very most, movies should just be a reflection of society, even if ill, in the hopes that by reproducing an image, the citizenry will be privy to its plainness.

Such that movies stay true to reality, no matter the farce, there should be no reason that characters should be distorted – disbelief should not stretch that far. There is nothing wrong with a protagonist such as Mary caring for someone, but it somehow feels wrong that she is knocked off her target, however evil it may be, for the one thing society has long believed is all a woman is ever good for.

By Christian Tesfaye

Published on Feb 10,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 928]



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