The Kitchen

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

moss, mccarthy, haddish
dir-scr Andrea Berloff
prd Michael De Luca, Marcus Viscidi
with Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, Margo Martindale, James Badge Dale, Brian d'Arcy James, Jeremy Bobb, Common, Bill Camp, EJ Bonilla, Myk Watford, Annabella Sciorra
release US 9.Aug.19,
UK 20.Sep.19
19/US New Line 1h42

gleeson martindale dale

The Kitchen
Based on a comics series, this dramatic thriller has a messy, overcrowded narrative that feels like it might be based on a true story. But awkward pacing undermines the more intriguing exploration of women who turn the tables on a masculine system. With her directing debut, writer Andrea Berloff does a great job portraying three intelligent, tough women. But they're just too bloodthirsty to be sympathetic.
It's early 1978 in Manhattan as two FBI agents (Common and Bonilla) arrest the Irish mob leaders running Hell's Kitchen: family man Jimmy (James), surly Kevin (Dale) and thuggish Rob (Bobb). To survive, their wives Kathy, Ruby and Claire (McCarthy, Haddish and Moss) make a move to take over the business in a way that's both fairer and more ruthless. They even negotiate deals with an Italian boss (Camp) and Hasidic Jews, but others don't like women being in charge. Then with business booming, their husbands get out of prison earlier than expected.
The plot is livened up by story threads that add texture to the fairly blunt, grim narrative. Psycho war veteran Gabriel (Gleeson) turns up to help dispose of rivals, while also providing romance for the badly abused Claire. Ruby's imperious mother-in-law (Martindale) offers old-school feminine muscle. And there are other plot twists in the pipeline to keep things lively. But none of this manages to provide any dramatic momentum. For everything that happens, there's a nagging sense that the film isn't going anywhere.

This certainly isn't the actors' fault. All three leads are terrific in straight roles that feature darkly witty touches. McCarthy has the most detailed character, because Kathy has a more complex moral journey. Haddish is fierce and increasingly dismissive, while Moss has fun indulging in Claire's darker impulses. Gleeson has the strongest male role, adding some unexpected layers, while Martindale uses her quiet growl to steal every scene.

Berloff misses the chance to use both suspense and humour to grapple with the sexual politics of the late-70s. But she never digs very deeply. There are nods to the bigger issues, most notably in the way even the most idiotic men feel entitled to run everything. And it's bold to make the women even more murderous than the men they remove from power. But the film lacks a point where the audience can connect on a meaningful level with what Kathy, Ruby and Claire are achieving here. So in the end it's impossible to root for them.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 16.Sep.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall