An angry woman can reign even in hell, or in this case, in Hell’s Kitchen, as with the three friends featured in this 2019 movie.
On the eve of a murky 1978, the existence of these three women, Kathy, Ruby, and Claire, takes an unexpected turn.
They are strictly close with the O’Carroll family, being the wives of three influential men from this turbulent household. Yet, everything changes drastically when their husbands end up behind bars after an FBI operation.
What seems like a disaster turns into an unexpected opportunity, and awakening from the ashes of abandonment and the violence they suffered, the women realize the potential to reorganize the family’s illicit activities.
They firmly confront the tough Jackie Quinn, who has appointed himself head of the O’Carroll with the blessing of tough old mother-family Helen. Still, the ladies wrest control of the stores in the neighborhoods away from them with an unexpected new ally: Gabriel O’Malley, a former hitman who has returned to town for the love of sweet Claire.
Under their supervision, the Irish return as mighty as before, and they also manage to put a Jewish construction company’s large amount of incoming money on their books.
However, their success is noticed, and it is not long before Alfonso Coretti, the influential head of Brooklyn’s Italian mob, imposes a confrontation on the women.
The mobster does not tolerate the Irish families’ interference in his turf and forces them to negotiate while respecting their commitment to helping the community and proposing an alliance.
Meanwhile, the imminent return of the husbands from prison throws the power they have won into precarious balance because each of them has the expectation of reasserting his position, but the women are unwilling to return to the shadows, no matter what the cost.
An interesting first direction
I want to start by saying that concerning a movie like 2019’s The Kitchen, we have to moderate our judgment, as we are certainly not at the highest level of a Martin Scorsese crime story, such as, for example, The Irishman about which I wrote a few days earlier.
However, let’s also recognize the value of what’s on offer and not throw it all in the trash because Andrea Berloff‘s first work as a director also has many exciting aspects.
First of all, the cinematography, costumes, and general reconstruction of that historical period are highly effective, as is the choice of an excellent soundtrack that contributes to a fast and enjoyable montage of the many plot events.
Indeed, we range through many different genres such as rock, soul, blues, and R&B, with many songs dealing with themes such as love, pain, struggle, and determination; not surprisingly, many are sung by women or by groups with a lead female voice, such as Etta James, The Velvelettes, Marilyn McCoo, and Fleetwood Mac.
Seeing the cover and the presence of an actress like comedian Melissa McCarthy, I immediately thought this movie was aiming for exaggeration, and maybe it was just a demented cartoon caricature of Goodfellas or similar, just with that feminine touch as a difference.
Well, I was dead wrong because Berloff, also the writer of the screenplay, succeeds in staying serious and building an exciting and dramatic evolution without becoming overly lengthy or tedious.
Even better, the real heart of this strange crime escalation is the relationship between the three female protagonists, each with different premises and backgrounds. Still, they all aim for the same goal: revenge against a community that has always judged them insignificant, showing everyone what they are capable of.
Ladies with Golden Hearts and Lead Bullets
So let’s take a closer look at these three leading ladies, starting with the gorgeous Melissa McCarthy, coming across as the most balanced of these female criminals as Kathy Brennan.
In this case, we also see a more dramatic side, becoming a kind of Irish Godfather who manages time between murders, racketeering, and children to take at school.
Although she is a bit naïve and too generous-hearted for this life, her friends recognize her intelligence and organizational skills, such as the beautiful Tiffany Haddish as the badass Ruby O’Carroll.
She is a proud black woman in a white Irish neighborhood, but she doesn’t put her head down for anyone, and God has mercy on anyone who gets in her way, including the bitchy, cold mother-in-law who is the outstanding Margo Martindale.
Next is my favorite character, played by Elisabeth Moss, the sweet and submissive Claire Walsh, who finally pulls out her claws and, indeed, becomes a hitman under the training of her new boyfriend, Domhnall Gleeson.
A good mix of strength and fragility makes this woman the most interesting of the trio and the one with the most drastic evolution over the story’s unfolding.
Finally, let’s credit the Italian mobsters with the excellent Bill Camp as Alfonso Coretti, again a ruthless but not psychopathic boss with a strict code of honor that is best understood clearly to avoid ending badly.
A small role for Annabella Sciorra is his wife, Maria Goretti, another female character who perhaps deserves more space to be more appreciated, but we see how she can quickly impose with fierce determination.