When watching the retro opening credits of Proud Mary where our main heroine is getting prepped up with the song “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” playing the background, it seems like we’re in for an action thrill ride in the vein of '70s blaxploitation films. But then, within the first thirty seconds, our expectations immediately become squandered. It seemed like it would be an exciting John Wick-style vehicle for Taraji P. Henson but it ended up being a complete misfire that does a disservice to her talents.
Proud Mary follows the story of a hit woman named Mary (Taraji P. Henson) whose life takes a quick turn around once she leaves the son of a target that she’s assassinated an orphan. A year later, Mary tracks down the boy named Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) to look after him and she ends up trying to protect him from the organized crime family that Mary works for.
Thankfully, despite the story not being as intriguing or high octane as it may seem, Taraji P. Henson still makes this watchable through sheer star power. Henson has proven that she’s capable of carrying a film thanks to her work in this and Hidden Figures and it’s nice that Hollywood has been keeping up with her talent since she hasn’t been offered many legitimate film roles beforehand despite having an Oscar nomination under her belt for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. Even if Proud Mary isn’t the strongest vehicle for her, it still shows that no matter how good or bad a film she’s in might be, she’ll bring a quality performance. Also, newcomer Jahi Di’Allo Winston manages to hold his own against Henson as the streetsmart Danny.
Other than the big climax that involves a massive shootout with the song “Proud Mary” by Tina Turner playing, that pretty much does it for what is good about the film. The other actors aren’t given much material to work with. Danny Glover, who plays Benny, the head of the crime family that Mary works for, plays an underdeveloped villain role and phones his role in. The other supporting actors like Neal McDonough, Xander Berkeley, and Academy Award nominee Margaret Avery see their talents go to waste as well.
They’re given nothing roles in a film that is in large part a lot of nothing. Other than the storyline involving Mary acting as a mother figure for a boy that she made an orphan, there isn’t anything else that is resonant or intriguing. It doesn’t even have a retro soundtrack like Atomic Blonde to give it some momentum when the film doesn’t have many action sequences to create any nor does it have any other filmmaking aesthetics to make it watchable. That’s a huge problem because if you have great performances but still aren’t demonstrating a well-realized story, you need to do certain techniques to keep the audience engaged somehow like caffeinated editing or colorful cinematography. Otherwise, people will just stare at their phones for the duration of the picture.
Other than Taraji P. Henson’s terrific leading performance, there isn’t any other reason to recommend Proud Mary. It’s poorly paced, poorly written, and such a waste of its tremendous talent. It may seem like a shoot ‘em up action thriller but Proud Mary ends up shooting blanks.