Not all comic book adaptations are created equal. Of course, you have your beloved top tier characters from Marvel and DC such as members of the Avengers or the Justice League. You also have your more adult niche titles such as V for Vendetta or Sin City that have an intense following among a very specific group of fans. And then you have film like The Kitchen, where the vast majority of the audience has no clue that it has any ties to a graphic novel in the slightest. Adapted from a DC/Vertigo miniseries of the same name by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle, The Kitchen tells a gritty yet grounded story of female empowerment that floundered both critically and financially at the box office. This is an unfortunate legacy for a film that is quite fun and largely succeeds on multiple fronts.
The Kitchen is set in 1978 in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, where the Irish mob has a stronghold on the criminal activities in the community. When three of the top members are apprehended in a crime gone wrong, their wives are left to depend on the charity of the interim leaders and family members to survive. There is Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), the strong, devoted wife to the kind Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James). There is also Claire (Elisabeth Moss), the timid, abused wife who is secretly relieved to be away from her husband. Finally, there is Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), wife of the heir to Irish mob empire, Kevin (James Badge Dale), who is not accepted by her mother in-law (Margo Martindale) due to her ethnicity, among other reasons. As unrest grows within the neighborhood due to a deterioration of leadership and support from the mob, and as the ladies get fed up with their mistreatment, the three decide to take matters into their own hands. They begin taking care of the neighborhood protection and gain a newfound respect and power among the people.
The most satisfying part of the story is watching these women on their come up and seeing how each of them change once they have a taste of the power that has been deprived to them. The biggest change is that Claire is no longer under the thumb of a toxic man, and it does not take long before she is embracing the violent streak that has been dormant inside of her. Elisabeth Moss is an expert at playing emotionally fractured women who persevere when the world is against them. Domhnall Gleeson plays a Vietnam Vet and enforcer, Gabriel, who helps the ladies with their takeover. Gabriel also helps Claire tap even further into her ferocity in a satisfying way that draws them together. The other two women fully embrace the new life and make big swings to expanding the growing empire. With new power come new threats from all manner of people who want them dealt with in the appropriate manner. The film does a good job of building up the different factions at play and how the puzzle pieces fit together. You have an FBI agent (Common) keeping a close eye at the same time they are catching the attention of the head of the Italian mafia (Bill Camp). That is not to mention the surviving members of Irish mafia that are not completely on board with their takeover. There are a lot of moving parts to The Kitchen, and it mostly succeeds in guiding everything to a satisfying conclusion while offering up some thrilling twists and turns.
There are so many things to enjoy about this misjudged slice of heightened gangster drama. The cinematography is truly striking and the production design makes you feel like you have traveled back in time. The script takes a much-enjoyed genre and breathes new life into it by putting women at the epicenter of power. This is not just a thoughtless gender-swap for the sake of being woke, though; the fact that there are women running the program is integral to the plot, as emotional intelligence and cunning are of the utmost value. The actresses that have been chosen to inhabit these women all do a great job, even when playing against type. This does lead to a valid criticism of the film, though. The script delicately stitches together an intricate plot, but it often struggles to find the appropriate tone. It is unclear if it is due to the original source material of the graphic novel or if it’s due to the cast involved, but there is an underlying levity present throughout a lot of the film that undercuts some of the more intense developments. This keeps the film from being truly great, but it does not take away from the film being a fun ride overall. Those who are looking for an interesting spin on the gangster genre should definitely check this out to form their own opinion.
The Kitchen comes to Blu-Ray with a stylistically gorgeous 1080p transfer in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The film can visually be quite dark for large portions, but the transfer holds up with strong black levels that yield a really great amount of detail. There are no overbearing instances of compression artifacting or banding to be found. Skin tones are nice and natural throughout with subtle details easily visible on faces. The level of fine detail is excellent with texture on clothing and production design popping off the screen. The film has a largely neutral color palette, but there are some bursts of color that stand out. The film is a treat to watch in high definition with no huge complaints to note.
The Blu-Ray comes with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix that thrillingly represents the film very well. The National’s Bryce Dessner provides a steady and suspenseful score that ratchets up the tension by providing a lot of activity in the low end. Scenes that are more crowded or action packed, such as shootouts, give the rear channels more of a workout. The track creates a realistic ambience that puts you right in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen. Dialogue is reproduced clearly without being overwhelmed by any sound effects or the score. Primary dialogue mostly stays in the front and center channels. All in all, this is an appropriately impressive track for a modern crime drama.
- Running Hell’s Kitchen: A nine-minute featurette with director Andrea Berloff, producer Michael DeLuca, comic writer Ollie Masters, comic artist Ming Doyle, Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish and more in which they discuss adapting the original comic into a full-length movie, why they are so fond of mob movies, how much fun they had working together and more. This is entertaining and informative.
- Taking Over The Neighborhood: A five-minute discussion with a lot of these same people in which they discuss turning modern day New York into the filthy, decrepit 1970s version featured in the film. There are some funny anecdotes about longtime New Yorkers being shocked by seeing their city falling apart again along with discussions on the period costumes.
- Deleted Scene: A minute and a half long scene in which Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) meets her husband at a diner following a funeral. It is not a huge loss that it was not included, but it is fun that it was able to be seen here.
The Kitchen may not completely work on every level, but it deserves a lot more credit than people give it. All of the performers are putting in solid work, even when they are working outside of their comfort zone. Elisabeth Moss does what she was born to do by stealing the show with a beautifully unhinged performance. The script could have used a bit more polishing to establish a more consistent tone, but it is a unique entry into the crime genre as it is. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has provided a great A/V presentation and a few fun extras. Fans of the actresses will want to check this one out, but they should have an open mind with the type of performance they trying to tackle in this movie. Recommended
The Kitchen is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.