- The Magazine
A balletic, bullet-riddled blast, Gunpowder Milkshake (★★★☆☆) is never more exhilarating than when its central sisterhood of badass librarians totally lets loose. For all the hard-boiled attitude and baroque visual style of writer-director Navot Papushado’s assassin opus, those librarians are the real treat, and the film serves them up only sparingly, as it carefully maps out the savage criminal underworld inhabited by our hitwoman heroine Sam.
Karen Gillan, better known for playing Thanos’ other daughter Nebula in the MCU, trades in the blue body paint for a satin bomber jacket, starring as the ostensibly cold-hearted killer. Yet, Sam has a big enough heart to rescue 8-year old Emily (Chloe Coleman) after a job goes sideways, and thus incurs the wrath of the truly cold-hearted customers behind organized crime syndicate The Firm.
As Sam explains in voiceover, the group of men known as The Firm has been running things for a long, long time, and she’ll need all her underworld resources to survive until the target’s off her back. Luckily, she can check into a hospital that treats only criminals, and duck into a diner just for cons and killers. As fortune would have it, an entire criminal universe operates just beneath the surface of the world we know. There’s even a well-stocked armory, disguised as a library, run for generations by the sisterhood of Librarians, currently represented by Florence (Michelle Yeoh), Madeleine (Carla Gugino), and Anna May (Angela Bassett).
Sam’s long-lost mother Scarlet (Lena Headey) was once a Librarian, until she vanished fifteen years ago. The sharp sting of abandonment still fuels Sam’s quiet rage, while also providing story subtext for her sisterly attachment to Emily. They’re just two lost girls battling the “endless supply of thugs” who keep gunning for them, shootout after shootout.
The pressure is unrelenting, as Sam and Emily can take barely a step without stumbling into a fabulously art-directed set-piece. From a gunfight staged in a closed-out video store, to a wild escape from kidnappers masked as classic horror movie villains, Israeli filmmaker Papushado (Big Bad Wolves) misses no opportunity to add visual verve and winking humor to the otherwise standard professional-bonds-with-kid plotline. Not every detail needs so much embellishment — Sam has to be the most conspicuous assassin ever, tooling around in a guards red Porsche 944, carrying a bright, yellow “I ♥︎ Kittens” duffle bag.
The noir-ish comic book palette, Tarantino-esque atmosphere, and score that sounds like Sergio Leone remixed by Mark Ronson lend as much character to the film as do the actual characters. Gillan retains her Nebula sneer and deadpan delivery, while dialing down the emotion to suit Sam’s ultra-cool demeanor under pressure.
But dialed-down here can register as too flat, so it’s Coleman’s quick-witted moppet who adds real feeling to the Sam and Emily partnership. Paul Giamatti adds amusing bluster as The Firm’s consigliere, Nathan. And it’s the Librarians — Gugino, Bassett, and Yeoh — slick assassins in sensible shoes, who bring the fun in their too-brief appearances slaying thugs in slow-mo with full fighting fury.
Gunpowder Milkshake is now available for streaming on Netflix. Visit www.netflix.com.
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