- Run Time
- 1 hour 42 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- 5 / 10
- 5 / 10
- Sex / Nudity
- 4 / 10
- Star Rating
Do not envy the wicked,
nor desire to be with them;
for their minds devise violence,
and their lips talk of mischief.
Writer/director Andrea Berloff’s feature-film is sort of a feminist The Godfather in which three mobster wives in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen (alluded to in the title) take over their husband’s protection racket when the men are convicted and sent to prison back in the 70s. Given her comic book source, it should be no wonder that this blood-spattered film falls short of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic. Still, thanks to the trio of excellent actresses, audiences, especial female members, might find some things to cheer as the wives emerge from their patriarchal domestic cocoons.
The husbands run the spectrum of the 70s’ male chauvinism– Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James) is kind to Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), while Kevin (James Badge Dale) is unfaithful, and his loutish racist mother (Margo Martindale) treat Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) like dirt blown in from Harlem. Rob (Jeremy Bobb) thinks he is entitled to beat Claire (Elisabeth Moss) in order to teach her a lesson. When the pair of FBI agents (Common and E.J. Bonilla) pursuing them catch up with the men, the wives react in ways suitable to the condition of their relationship. The husbands assure the wives that the gang will take care of their financial needs.
The women soon find that the Irish mob could care less about them, so they begin to take over their husbands’ duties by visiting with the various store owners and telling them that they will give better protection service. They hire some muscle to back them up. One of them, hit-man Gabriel (Domhnall Gleason) quickly moving from being Claire’s protector and tutor to her lover. Claire, the once shrinking violet wife, morphs into as brutal and efficient a killer as any of the men. As we see her dismembering a victim for easy disposal, a worthy nickname comes to mind, “The Butcher.”
Given their differences in temperament and personalities, can the women keep their triumvirate intact as they rise in the ranks, even crossing over to deal with the all-powerful Brooklyn mob, as well as the Jews of Manhattan? They prove to be better at protecting clients than their husbands, so when the latter are released, what will happen then?
The gangster genre has always been a morally ambiguous one, and even more so for people of faith who profess to uphold values of decency that build up rather than destroy relationships. In some films, such as the already mentioned The Godfather trilogy we are led to root for the protagonist at first, but then are shown as he changes, to see the terrible effects of his crimes on him. In Coppola’s film Don Vito Corleone has kept his war hero son Michael away from his crime syndicate, but when his power is threatened by rivals, the once kind Michael is drawn in to help his father. Saving him from destruction, Michael becomes enmeshed in the mob, taking over after his father is incapcitated and then dies. Maintaining power includes multiple ruthless murders, even of kinfolk, as well as engaging in racketeering. The once idealistic Michael becomes a cold blooded killer, which poison’s his relationship with the wife whom he had once loved. By the end of the trilogy Michael is in power, but Kay has left him, and we see him sitting alone. Crime might pay, despite the old adage to the contrary, the film declares, but its end is isolation and the death of the soul.
In Berfoff’s film the addition of feminist concerns—namely, of women emerging from the strict control of husbands—weights our decision to root for the success of the protagonists. And yet, they are engaged in unethical pursuits that exploits the weak rather than build them up.
This review will be in the September issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.