Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss
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Every few years, a film like Sam Mendes’ Road To Perdition or David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence pops up as a friendly reminder that comic books aren’t just the realm of spandex-clad symbols of justice. And with the latest from writer and now-director Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton, Blood Father), we seem to be getting a more feminist take on organised crime. Or, rather, that’s what this could have been if it had enough of an idea about what it was trying to be in the first place.
The leading cast is at once perfectly placed and yet criminally underutilised. Melissa McCarthy is respectably playing against type, but when her one mood is pouting and being on the verge of tears, one longs for a more “I’ll play your heart like a fucking accordion” delivery.
Same goes for Elisabeth Moss, who’s been deserving of better material for a long time but is let down by how the adaptation shifts her character around. What was once a hardened and vicious character is here shown as a victim at the hands of men, who ends up clinging to yet another man in order to get her vengeance.
The only one here who actually works for the entirety of the film is Haddish, who throws unabashed moxie in everyone’s faces, resulting in a role that is both the closest to the source material and yet its most evident diversion [her character was not in the comic].
While Berloff and DOP Maryse Alberti’s efforts allow for cool ‘70s-era visuals, the tone never manages to find its groove. For a story involving extortion, murder and a garbage truck full of dismembered body parts, this is way too sanitised to really do its own genre any justice. It attempts emphasis on the femininity of our leads in how they do business, putting a maternal spin on the idea of protection rackets, but all that manages to do is make the whole effort inexorably bland.
And that’s without factoring in that it is an adaptation of a DC Vertigo comic, an imprint as revered for its mature, mystically-tinged storytelling as it is for its high-concept revamping of disregarded characters from the DC canon. This is the same line that took a pulp-era crime-fighter in Sandman and turned him into the abstract embodiment of the concept of dreaming itself.
The source material, and by extension this film, follows that same approach of retooling underutilised characters. It takes one of the more classically left-behind archetypes in the crime genre, the mob wife, and gives her a chance to shine without being tied directly to a male lead. In the era of Widows and Ocean’s 8, this comic being turned into a movie makes all kinds of sense.
Shame that that goodwill doesn’t extend to the finished product, where it feels like the pieces are in place to deliver a solid story, but none of them are given the space, the framing, or the grit to truly take form.