The Dove Take:
Too many of the wrong elements make it impossible to ever feel right about this movie.
The Kitchen is Widows-light and violence-heavy.
Dove audiences won’t go for the language, the boozing, the wife-abusing and definitely not the corpse-dismembering, where we even hear bones snapping for full effect. Viewed in the most favorable light, the movie might leave room to discuss the females-in-typically-male-roles dynamic, because that is relevant in today’s Christianity. But there are far better places to do that than in this mob movie, set in the Irish-American-run Hell’s Kitchen section of New York in 1978.
We’re not surprised that there are plenty of killings. That’s how the mob does business, so when a robbery goes awry and three mobsters get locked up—also a part of their doing business—their wives take over, which isn’t usually how the mob does business. But Kathy, Ruby and Claire have to make ends meet and they can’t do it on the paltry sums trickling down to them now that their husbands are in the pokey.
So, they shake down businesses and Hasidic jewelers for protection money, even as they are initially resented by their chauvinistic colleagues. They build alliances with a Brooklyn Italian mobster. It’s an attempt to show that women mobsters can be as effective as men, and they go to great lengths to do so, though not nearly as polished as with the Steve McQueen movie Widows, which this movie aspires to emulate.
The movie tries to paint the women in an empathetic light. Kathy and Ruby are portrayed by comediennes (Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish, respectively), who lean into dramatically serious issues more than you might expect. Kathy is the longsuffering dutiful wife of low-level mobster Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James), and Ruby is the wife of the boss Kevin (James Badge Dale), though you wonder why she married into a family so openly hostile to her race (the sneering contempt expertly acted out by Margo Martindale, as Ruby’s mother-in-law, Helen.)
The greatest empathy is reserved for Claire (Elisabeth Moss), who is treated like a punching bag by her worthless husband Rob (Jeremy Bobb). As she goes from victim to willing participant, Claire has an affair with creepily dark Gabriel (Domnhall Gleeson) and learns the finer points of mob life.
But empathy can’t save this film or get it Dove-approved.