Winter is a busy time at the movies: plenty of holiday movie mega-hits and Award-nominated films are still playing and continue to steadily sell tickets (like The Shape of Water and Star Wars: The Last Jedi), but films released in January are expected to pave the way for cinema in the next 11 months… As far as Proud Mary is concerned, it’s not looking up, unfortunately. Taraji P. Henson and her co-stars deserve better than this mundane and subdued “action movie.” It’s much more of a drama, which is ironic considering how much drama there is surrounding it’s release this weekend.  February’s Black Panther has a lot riding on its superhero shoulders as the first official blockbuster of 2018, but without further ado, Proud Mary opens to a less than prideful reception.

When the groovy movie posters and electrifying trailers were released, Proud Mary seemed to promote a 1970’s Pam Grier/Foxy Brown meets 2017’s Charlize Theron/Atomic Blonde kinda of vibe. Mary, played by the fabulous Taraji P. Henson (FOX’s Empire, Hidden Figures, No Good Deed) appeared to be serving audiences a new female lead, and fresh off the coattails of the empowering 2018 Emmy Awards, where the women (and most men) of Hollywood came together in solidarity for equal rights and pay, as well as the call to end sexual harassment, no less. 

The Proud Mary trailer looked promising: a tougher than nails assassin kicks ass and takes names like a James Bond-meets-Cookie Lyon hero ready to kick off the year! The movie that plays out, however, is much more of a mother-son love story surrounding an abused woman and child in the underground drug world of Boston. It’s more about the two of them and what they are willing to sacrifice for their freedom, than anything else.

As misleading as the trailers were, it wasn’t until after we rung in the new year that promotions for Proud Mary commenced, giving this film only a week and a half of lacklustre visibility to compete with the well-advertised Paddington 2 and Liam Neeson’s Taken-esque thriller, The Commuter. Something’s sounds fishy, Mary!

That being said, there has also been a lot of talk surrounding the Screen Gems production company (owned by Sony) and their treatment of this film.  Rumours that Screen Gems had literally “dumped” on Proud Mary because of its black female lead and majority black cast have been circulating online for weeks now. Nothing is confirmed, but after watching the film, it definitely feels unfinished. With Black Panther thrashing Marvel’s record for the most tickets sold on the first day of presales just TWO DAYS before Proud Mary was released in theatres, it’s clear that people have interest in seeing strong black leads in major motion pictures. It couldn’t be clearer. This notion that people do not want to see black leads has been debunked over and over and over again; the problem is clearly within the studios and their executives.

Even without the rumoured lack of support, proper promotions/funding, and the decision to throw the movie out into theatres in January instead of February (disapproving of proper post-production and a Black History Month release), Proud Mary still garnered enough attention and intrigue to earn back production costs on opening day – $14 million. Considering the hurdles this film had to supposedly jump over to get made, that’s pretty impressive. There may not be a reason to be proud of this film as a whole, but the cast and crew should be very proud of overcoming adversity.

With all of that hoopla going on behind the scenes, on screen, the story of Proud Mary is never actually told. Right from the opening scene, we are let into a woman’s world whom we know nothing about. The trailers don’t explain who she is, and now the movie fails to do so in the same way. All we know is that Mary is an assassin. She’s cool, beautiful and deadly, but after killing a man who owes her gangster boss Benny (Danny Glover) money, she disappears into the shadowy Boston underworld, keeping tabs on the man’s young son out of guilt and worry.

A year later, Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston, TV’s Feed the Beast, The New Edition Story), the child, is an orphaned street kid who’s plagued by his father’s murder and falls into some deep water. Harbouring guilt for what she’s done to Danny, her maternal instincts get the best of her. Mary secretly takes him in under her roof where he is safe but none the wiser. Of course, one thing leads to another and the pair finds themselves running from a bigger trouble than they ever thought possible.  The emotions they share are raw and beautiful but feel like they should exist in a whole other film, entirely.

Directed by Babak Najafi (London Has Fallen) and executive produced by the film’s very popular star, Taraji P. Henson, Proud Mary still falls short of being labelled a notary action movie. Majority of the film focuses on Mary and Danny’s budding relationship, and only about 20% of the film actually has any action in it. It’s not until the tail end of the film that we truly see Mary in the “femme fatale” role that audiences expected from the trailer. A gun war erupts to the sounds of John Fogarty’s “Proud Mary,” which the singer/songwriter says Sony has no legal right to use in the movie (according to an official post on his Facebook page). Is Sony trying to make this movie tank?

With the allegedly controversial decision-making by Screen Gems/Sony and the copyright infringement surrounding John Fogarty’s song of the same name, Proud Mary is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. What should have been an empowering, gripping, and adventurous action movie lead by a popular and beautiful black woman has turned into an open-ended, contentious and uninspired example of a story with the potential for a greatness we will never see. It really is a tough world for a woman in showbiz. At least Taraji’s not to blame for this mess.

“Killing for the man every night and day.”

Watch the trailer.

Showtimes & Buy Tickets.

About the Author

Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.