Courtesy of Warner Bros.
“The Kitchen” is a major win for female representation in mainstream Hollywood right now.
Not only does the film feature three strong leads in the form of Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elizabeth Moss, but “The Kitchen” was written and directed by a woman and getting a prime summer release date.
Writer turned director Andrea Berloff’s adaptation of the Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle comic series, branded here as “DC Vertigo,” is a stylistic and vintage noir thriller that gives plenty for its three leads to chew on and allots ample supporting turns from the likes of Domhnall Gleason, James Badge Dale, Margo Martindale, Brian d’Arcy James, and the always reliable Bill Camp.
The year is 1978 and we’re in the heart of the not-so-glamorous and crime-infested Hell's Kitchen, which, thanks to production designer Shane Valentino and Sara Edwards glossy coustuming, “The Kitchen” immediately transports the viewer to this reality and though Berloff has helped usher in films “Straight Outta Compton” and “World Trade Center” on the page, here she demonstrates terrific poise and control behind the camera.
Serving as an homage to Warner Bros own vault of iconic mobster films and a cross breed of an all female version of “The Departed,” “The Kitchen” puts three intelligent Irish broads Claire (Moss), Kathy (McCarthy), and Ruby (Haddish) in the drivers seats as their left to provide for their families following a botched job that gets their husbands pinched. Often pushed around and not seen as real human beings (Claire is beaten each day by her lousy spouse, Kathy often picks up the slack of her hubby, and Ruby can’t please her man if she tried) they’re ready to make real money.
Instead of bending over, the trio demand a higher stipend from their greedy husband’s lousy employer, a snarky street enforcer named “Little Jackie” who, along with his dimwitted goons, are in charge of a section of Hell’s Kitchen, making sure his community and businesses are looked after. Scoffing at the idea of more green in their pockets, Jackie shows them the door where it’s not long before the female squad formulates a small empire against the once prominent gangster in the city.
Backed by their muscle, Gabriel (Gleason), whose bloody tutorial on human dismemberment is a giddy highlight, Claire, Kathy, and Ruby are soon running the streets and gaining respect of the police department, construction unions, and local shop owners, stepping on (or shooting) anyone that tries to question authority. But their geographical dominance makes them easy targets of Brooklyn’s own squad of savvy gangsters, headed by Bill Camp (quietly elevating any movie he’s in) who doesn’t take kindly to female hustlers poaching his lucrative market.
So the girls must adapt to their surroundings, and Berloff’s script gives each actress an arch to expand and grow with, as well as their own individual tasks. Haddish has never been better as Ruby, whose simple eyebrow raise or physical inflection is packed with more intimidation than any gun could fire; Claire - whose got the best arch of them all - goes from weak and fragile to popping slugs into her instigators without flinching; and Kathy leads the brigade as the unofficial voice of reason.
It’s refreshing and a relief to see three strong actresses given roles worthy of their talent even though “The Kitchen” can’t resist the urge to lift every double-cross and mobster cliche in the Scorsese handbook. The whole “sleeping with the fishes” mentality feels like a stain on an otherwise well oiled machine, with some characters (a police detective played by Common, or Wayne DuVall as Kathy’s father) not becoming fully realized, or used as scapegoats for cheap emotional baggage.
All things considered. “The Kitchen” still offers a daft amount of suspense and unpredictable twists late in the game that in the wrong hands would’ve been another drama that exploits female stereotypes. Instead, Berloff is above those troupes and utilizes each characters strengths to their advantage. No doubt about it, “The Kitchen” is a late Summer sleeper that cooks up the goods.