Home Reviews Did a Lack of Marketing Doom ‘Proud Mary’? (Review)

Did a Lack of Marketing Doom ‘Proud Mary’? (Review)

written by Ro January 29, 2018
Mary (Taraji P. Henson) enters a room after a contract kill to see something unexpected in Screen Gems’ PROUD MARY.
Proud Mary poster IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC.

Proud Mary poster IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC.

Proud Mary falls on the more somber end of the hitman story spectrum.  It’s less about the hits and more about the woman behind the gun. This, of course, leads to scenes and dialogue that are more than a little campy  – but come on, that’s to be expected in this type of film. There’s plenty of action to be had, but Proud Mary is refreshingly more than just a shoot ’em up. I laughed, I shook my head at the screen, I fell in deep lust with a silver Maserati, and I was delighted to watch a complicated woman more than willing to pull the trigger when necessary.

Proud Mary won’t win any awards – folks already know how I feel about popcorn movies – but it was a good escape from the nonsense that is adulting. It was a much better film than I’d been led to expect, and better than more than one film of its ilk in this genre.

It’s a fun addition to the Kick-Ass Women Action Film Club. I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing more of Mary. More than one track off the soundtrack of her life will certainly make an appearance on my writing playlist.

I’m always down to check out an action movie and by the end, I knew I needed to up my boot game. I’d fight you to own Mary’s arsenal.

So let’s discuss Proud Mary, shall we? (no spoilers)

The opening sequence neatly dishes out some needed background information. The audience learns Mary is quick on the trigger, but she has rules she lives by. The job doesn’t cause her any moral conflict. However, she isn’t a heartless killer either. Mary kills people for a living.

The film opens with her completing a hit. Before she leaves, Mary realizes her mark wasn’t home alone. Mary chooses to leave that child alive. She walks away without being seen and moves on, but the job sticks with her.

Thankfully, screenwriters Steve Antin, John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal avoid dumping Mary into stereotype hell (for the most part). Mary isn’t harboring some deep emotional wound that makes her act out of character. She isn’t on some self-destructive quest. She’s not a mindless killer who goes rogue. She hasn’t always longed to be someone’s mama and is willing to do anything to feed that biological clock’s tick-tock.

She put in work as instructed and walked away hoping for the best. However, once Mary discovers that child is suffering as a result of her actions, she steps in and does something about it. That decision sets off a cascade of events that ends with all hell breaking loose.

It’s not that unique a setup, but Henson’s Mary is a woman who could (and most likely does) exist.  Henson is emotionally available, intriguing, and ruthless-ish.

The situation she finds herself in (although of her own making) happens in a fictitious (allegedly) Boston, run by crime syndicates. Even so, it’s done in a way that keeps this film’s campy edge on just this side of relatable.

The story unfolds with humor, subtle – if predictable – tension, and flair. Proud Mary holds together right through to the end.

Missteps

Neither this story, nor this character, are intended to be “Atomic” Mary, and Henson isn’t channeling Empire‘s Cookie. I think this mischaracterization is partly to blame for the movie’s reception.

Plus, I think this script has more than a few missed opportunities (and plot holes). Fair warning, there’s a time jump early on that shifts the story focus to the Danny character, in order to bring the timeline to modern day. While this tactic does justice to bringing us up-to-date on him, the script takes no time to do the same for Mary. Also, given the subplots and story tension, there really needed to be some more attention spent getting us into her head and life.

Most of the hiccups in the film are due to unnecessarily superficial character backstory and plot development. You see, Mary isn’t a freelancer and she doesn’t work for the government. She works for a crime family headed by a man named Benny (Danny Glover) and his son Tom (Billy Brown).

There’s far more going on in this dynamic than we get in the movie. Given the depth of Henson’s Mary and the effort put into creating a connection between her and Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), Benny and Tom fall well short of the mark in the story arc stakes. As a result of the lightness of this portion of the story, these characters slow the action. They are responsible for the slight drag in the second act and the abrupt feeling the story has towards the end. It leads to more than one anticlimactic moment.

The Studio Failed Proud Mary

There’s an understanding when it comes to films and marketing. We all know it. If you don’t see much promotion or advance screenings announced, then a movie is assumed a bucket of hot garbage. In critic circles, it’s “junk” January and not seeing a full-court marketing press leading up to release day sends a message.

Screen Gems (Sony Pictures) never gave Proud Mary a damn chance. The trailer is high impact, but leaves you clueless as to what the film’s about.

A trailer revolving around a character rather than the story isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but people need to see the trailer. 

If you don’t know when a movie hits a theater near you, how can you plan to go see it? When critics (especially critics of color) aren’t discussing a film when it first drops, you can’t even gear up to go support it just to stick it to them (don’t front, we know you do it, it’s cool).  It’s like they don’t want this film to find an audience.

Proud Mary opened without a single critic review on Rotten Tomatoes. When I left my house on the 12th to catch a mid-morning show, there were only ten reviews; and only one by a critic of color. I was annoyed. After seeing the film I was just flat out pissed because Proud Mary is for all it’s faults a fun ride.

Have you seen this movie? Do you think it was doomed to fail from the start? Let us know in the comments!


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