4 Sep 2019

Movie review: The Kitchen

From At The Movies, 7:33 pm on 4 September 2019

The Kitchen is a classic '70s gangster film told from a female point of view. Writer-director Andrea Berloff has made an entertaining concoction by adding a few new ingredients to an old recipe, says Simon Morris.

Simon Morris: The stories told by Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese were operatic, tribal tales of urban turf wars between Italians and Irish, Puerto Ricans and Afro-Americans.

Fifty years later, the question is asked: what if these films had been made by women?

This is the idea behind a film called The Kitchen - set in New York's notorious Hell's Kitchen in the '70s - and based on a violent comic book.

The Kitchen centres on three wives of petty Irish gangsters, recently arrested and jailed for two years.

There's homemaker Kathy - played by Melissa McCarthy - and tough cookie Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) who married out of the black community to Kevin, the leader of the gang.

And there's mousey Claire - Elisabeth Moss is in everything these days - who's the classic battered wife.

All three are getting no help from their family.

Their criminal in-laws claim there's not enough money to support them. Their usual clients aren't paying their dues - meaning the protection money they owe.

In Seventies gangster films, "protection money" is paid to people with guns to protect you from people with guns.

The three wives decide the one way to build up some heat is to get out of the figurative kitchen. They tell the disgruntled shop-owners they can offer more service, and better protection, than the increasingly lazy gangsters.

They pick up any extra muscle they need by paying better - and suddenly the ladies find themselves queens of the Hell's Kitchen streets.

It's interesting watching a film like The Kitchen get its swagger together.

First, it picks up actors you wouldn't expect to see in a gangster movie - comediennes Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish as Kathy and Ruby are tough and convincing, particularly Tiffany.

First, it sets up a ticking clock as word gets out that their husbands are expected out sooner rather than later.

And complicating matters are the shifting loyalties of the cops and the Mafia, led by the suave Coretti.

Like all gangster tales, The Kitchen is taut and amoral - it's best if you don't think too hard about how many bystanders are being taken out along the way.

This is a common complaint about the films of male gangster groupies like Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino.

For anyone who thought this genre could be easily dismissed as "boys and their toys", I'm afraid it's not as binary as all that.

Women are just as likely to start shooting, particularly when decades of gender politics are thrown into the mix.

The Kitchen is an entertaining concoction, with a few new ingredients in an old recipe.

But as always, it comes down to who's wearing the chef's hat.

This is writer Andrea Berloff's first outing as a director, and while she's not Francis Ford Coppola yet… well, neither was he when he was making The Godfather fifty years ago.