It’s a week of limited cinema releases, and they couldn’t be more different. In contrast to the thoughtful Nine Days, Gunpowder Milkshake lets you leave your brain at the door. This colourful adult fairytale from writer-director Navot Papushado is a rollercoaster ride. It’s shamelessly entertaining in that brutal way favoured by the likes of Quentin Tarantino.
The film bears more than a passing resemblance to the John Wick films. Though if you pull on the threads a little, you might find a path back to Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional – or even the crime thrillers of Jean-Pierre Melville – by way of Japanese anime.
Early on, we learn that Sam (Karen Gillan) was abandoned by her mother Scarlet (Lean Headey) many years before. The reasons for this emerge later. Scarlet leaves Sam in the care of Nathan (Paul Giamatti), an agent of her employers, The Firm. Now Sam is The Firm’s top assassin. But her latest job has gone wrong. In the course of an unplanned bloodbath, she’s killed the son of crime boss Jim McAlester (Ralph Ineson). But Nathan manages to smooth things over by having Sam “fix” The Firm’s latest problem. One of their accountants, David (Samuel Anderson), has stolen a lot of money. The Firm wants it back. When Sam goes to retrieve it, things get real messy, real fast. She finds herself in charge of 8-year-old Emily (Chloe Coleman), David’s daughter.
With a pack of goons, the Mob and The Firm on her tail, Sam turns to the only safe haven she knows – the Librarians. Anna May (Angela Bassett), Madeleine (Carla Gugino) and Florence (Michelle Yeoh) were among Scarlet’s associates back in the day. They still consider Sam as kind of a daughter, even though Anna May is less than thrilled when she shows up on their doorstep. But with the bad guys closing in and a child’s life at stake, they agree to help her out – with support and heavy weapons.
Papushado and production designer David Scheunemann (Atomic Blonde) craft a neon-soaked, noirish world. While it seems to be in America, the film was actually shot around Berlin. You might recognise some of the landmarks, including the Bode Museum which provides the exteriors for “The Library”. Papushado’s script (co-written with Ehud Lavski) keeps everything pretty vague. With a few exceptions, the details are subservient to the spectacular but often gory action. So the audience is left to fill in the gaps, if they care to. In the end, the film becomes something of a parable of feminist solidarity, though that message is undercut somewhat by its gleeful violence.
Karen Gillan (Jumanji) shows real flair as an action star with an all-in performance as Sam. Young Chloe Coleman steals several scenes as Sam’s sidekick Emily. Paul Giamatti (Billions) is suitably smarmy as Nathan, and Ralph Ineson (Doolittle) quite nasty as McAlester. Lena Headey (300: Rise of an Empire), Angela Bassett (Avengers: Endgame), Carla Gugino (Roadies) and Michelle Yeoh (Boss Level) bring tons of energy to the project as the fractured sisterhood.
Gunpowder Milkshake was a surprisingly entertaining experience for me. I admit I wasn’t expecting too much, but Papushado’s stylish direction and some fine filmmaking ensure this frantic adventure becomes a pulpy delight.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – movie review
- Ready Player One – movie review
- Dark Waters – movie review
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television