Back in 1947 Republic Studios produced a 13 chapter serial called The Black Widow. The idea that a woman was the nasty lead gangster, was not the usual structure of a dark crime drama. Even today except perhaps for Sin City women are not the leaders of gangs in films. The Kitchen places three women in a position to take over the Irish mob in the late 70’s Hell Kitchen while their husbands are away in prison and they take over.
The head of the Irish mob Little Jackie Quinn (Myk Watford) who pledged to take care of the three women until the spouses finish their sentences, falls short of his commitment and each of the three women find it difficult to get by. The difficulty is strongest for Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) who has two children and she gathers the other two women: Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire (Elizabeth Moss) for a visit with Quinn. Quinn makes it clear they will get only what he determines they should receive.
Using solid organizational skill the three visit those businesses who have been paying for security to Quinn and begin to take over the payoffs by offering to make sure the businesses are protected from undesirables hanging around by hiring off some of the enforcers available in The Kitchen. Using force and a show of guns they protect their clients and those who refuse to cooperate find life in the neighborhood very uncomfortable. Their big move however is insisting that the Irish building workers are used on projects in the neighborhood and that creates support on the street for their organization. Kathy’s father ((Wayne Duvall) a building worker is unhappy with her new role in The Kitchen but is quietly proud of her success.
What begins as necessity becomes a power house for the three and they connect with Alfonso Coretti (Bill Camp) head of the Italian mob and together they control a large section of the city. Kathy not only brings security to her customers, she also provides a little help when they are in need, a smart move.
Director Andrea Berloff presents a dirty ugly vision of the city. The streets are filled with trash and graffiti and low life folks roam all over. The texture of the land adds to the dark theme of the film. But Berloff also brings in some comedy such as Clair’s fascination with Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson) who is a killer and cleaner. She quickly becomes expert at cutting up bodies and disposing of them.
But Ruby has the darkest heart and she has little concern for her mother in law Helen played effectively by Margo Martindale she is one of the early casualties controlled by the three. Ruby’s husband has a reputation of cheating on her and eventually she deals with him and the girlfriend.
All three begin to adopt the dark side with Kathy showing the most caution and concern. But her concern leads to a murder when she allows a young enforcer to live and he acts to kill one she cares about. By the end of the film Kathy is tougher and stronger and has the ability to sentence anyone who places her family in danger to death. It shows women can do just about anything men can do.
Director, Andrea Berloff holds our attention as we watch the evolution of the three women who become more and more like the men they replace. In the end their ambition holds no bounds and they are on their way to becoming up-town-girls.