US / 89 minutes / color / Screen Gems Dir: Babak Najafi Pr: Tai Duncan, Mark Anthony Little, Paul Schiff Scr: John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal, Steven Antin Story: John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal Cine: Dan Laustsen Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Billy Brown, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Danny Glover, Xander Berkeley, Neal McDonough, Margaret Avery, Rade Serbedzija, Erik LaRay Harvey, Owen Burke, Bo Cleary, James Milord, Alex Portenko, Gene Ravvin, Airon Armstrong, Jose Gonsalves, Kevin O’Peterson, Vladimir Orlov, Al’Jaleel McGhee.
Taraji P. Henson as Mary.
“Taraji P. Henson Like You’ve Never Seen Her Before” the DVD box proclaimed, so for at least a weekend we were incapable of referring to anyone by name without adding the words “Like You’ve Never Seen Her/Him Before”; things, minds, simple, etc.
Boston hitwoman Mary (Henson Like You’ve Never Seen Her Before) spares the young son of a bookie she murders, and thereafter feels responsible for the child, keeping an eye on him from a distance. When she discovers he’s being knocked around by the criminal he’s fallen in with, Uncle (Berkeley), she kills the latter and secretes the boy, Danny (Winston), in her apartment. But the murder of Uncle causes upheaval between the gang boss she works for, Benny (Glover), and the head of a rival gang. With Benny’s son and right-hand man, Tom (Brown), her ex-lover, Mary is instructed to find and eliminate Uncle’s killer. Her only alternative, if she wants to protect herself and Danny, she sadly realizes, is to eliminate the people whom over the years she’s come to regard as her family . . .
So she does.
Xander Berkeley as Uncle.
It took me a long time to reconcile the kickass Henson of this movie with her role as the mathematician Katherine Goble Johnson of Hidden Figures (2016), a performance that I unconditionally adored—so I guess the claim on the DVD box isn’t unwarranted. She’s very good here, too, and I’ll certainly look out for any further action thrillers in which she features, but she’s constrained a little by the boundaries of the movie; because in many ways Proud Mary could have been made forty or more years ago, as part of the main torrent of blaxploitation movies, with someone like Pam Grier in the kickass role.
Danny Glover as Benny.
There’s nothing at all wrong with that characteristic, of course—in fact, Proud Mary can be read as an homage to the blaxploitation era—but it does rather limit the cast’s room for maneuver, so to speak. The only person who seems happy within the limitations—aside from Jahi Di’Allo Winston, in a very appealing performance as the troubled kid—is Danny Glover. Glover, as gang boss Benny, perfectly portrays the patriarch who presents himself as—and perhaps even believes himself in some ways to be—a sweet old gent, yet who’s in reality a barbarian capable of the most cruel and ruthless acts.
Jahi Di’Allo Winston as Danny.
As a way of filling ninety minutes, Proud Mary is enjoyable enough; it’s assuredly not one of those movies where you’d resent the time you’d spent on it. But its seemingly deliberate lack of ambition means that I’d predict you’re unlikely to remember it very long, either.
Billy Brown as Tom.