More “Leon: The Professional” than “Atomic Blonde,” Babak Najafi’s “Proud Mary” is a classic tribute to the blaxploitation films of the seventies that wears its intentions on its sleeves. It’s a film that feels like it would have been made in 1978 with Pam Grier as Mary, Bernie Casey as her ex-lover mobster boss. I wouldn’t be quick to call it a masterpiece, but through and through, it’s a sweet tribute, with some well drawn characters that’s almost brought down by its flaws in storytelling and editing.
Taraji P. Henson gets her long overdue starring role as Mary, a hit woman who assassinates a dealer completely oblivious that he has a teenage son. A year later, the boy named Danny is now a drug courier and messenger for a vicious and abusive mobster, who owns him and uses him as a mule. Mary comes across Danny after an accident (Mistakenly? It’s never clarified), and seeks redemption by taking him in and confronting his boss he calls “Uncle” (the always good Xander Berkeley). Of course after that turns disastrous, Mary finds herself running back and forth to keep her family from learning who killed “Uncle” and preventing a potential war, all the while trying to prove herself to Danny as a tolerable role model and potential guardian.
Despite its flaws “Proud Mary” is a very good and solid action drama fueled by the top notch cast. Everyone from Danny Glover, to Xander Berkeley is top notch, while Taraji P. Henson plays this role to pure perfection. She doesn’t try to do anything but play the role to her trademark charisma, and keeps Mary a consistently intriguing and enigmatic character. I don’t know if we’ll ever get a follow up to learn more about Mary, but director Babak Najafi implies that there’s so much more to Mary’s life that we haven’t seen yet, and paints a picture of a skilled warrior driven by revenge until she goes one step too far. If I had a complaint, it’s that there shockingly little emphasis on Mary’s skills as an assassin, with a lot of the story devoted to her life after the fallout of the prologue.
Not to mention the editing leaves much to be desired; I’m not sure why they decided to play the final scene during the credits rather than let it play and then roll the credits. Either way, “Proud Mary” is a slick, entertaining, and engaging action drama with a sharp performance by Taraji P. Henson. I hope we can see this character again in some form.