Gangster movies are to modern cinema what Westerns were in early Hollywood. A genre defined by strong men who are willing to get their hands dirty for money, loyalty, and family. And just like how Westerns have opened themselves to re-interpretation and subversion, the gangster movie genre gets a new spin with Andrea Berloff’s “The Kitchen.”
Set in Hell’s Kitchen during the 1970s, the movie follows Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elizabeth Moss); three women whose husbands are arrested following a set up. After the Irish Mob gives them less money than they need to get by, the three decide to take control of their lives. They start off by offering protection to businesses and then move onto rackets like pornography and prostitution. And with the help of hitman Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson), the crew fends off the guys who call the shots in the neighborhood, align with an Italian mob boss (Bill Camp), and deal with the risks that comes with being on top in the crime world.
In a dynamic between the three leads is very reminiscent to that of “Goodfellas.” Both have a trio shaped by the mob-related culture and delve into the seedy underbelly of New York City. McCarthy’s Kathy is reminiscent to Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, Tiffany Haddish shows street smart ruthlessness akin to Robert De Niro’s James Conway, and Elizabeth Moss begins the movie as the victim of her husband’s physical abuse and grows to fit a role similar to Joe Pesci’s quick to anger, hair-triggered Tommy DeVito. And the relationship Moss has with Gleeson feels like classic Bonnie and Clyde. The rest of the supporting cast helps to enhance the atmosphere these three women bring as they seek to change the “no girls allowed” mentality in the Irish Mob.
Many critics have described the movie as a wannabe Martin Scorsese film. Now there are many elements of the movie that emulates from Scorsese movies like “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” or “The Departed,” from a trio delving into the criminal underworld, to the familiar 70s music sprinkled throughout the piece that adds to the atmosphere. But rather than coming off as derivative of Scorsese, the film gives a more feminist critique of the genre. The leading women show their strength in varying fields; Kathy being a pillar in the community, Ruby being street smart, and Claire showing a lack of restrain towards violence. And each element shows how much they’re able to accomplish, challenging our expectations as they impress the Italian Mob.
While “The Kitchen” follows a simple narrative, the movie does bring a unique feminist lens that is made more clear with its leading ladies. They show prowess not only on-screen, but also the potential the crime genre has with subversions we rarely see in this genre.