When it comes to contract killing, it’s really all in the family.
At least, that’s the case with Scarlet, who was an assassin for a shadowy organization called the Firm. They’re a group of men with the power to do whatever they want without consequence, sending people like Scarlet to tie up any loose ends. Fifteen years ago, Scarlet was forced to abandon her teenage daughter, Sam, and go on the run. Now, Sam is following in her mother’s footsteps, cleaning up the Firm’s messes by making a few of her own.
The job is fairly simple: Sam gets an assignment from Nathan, the Firm’s “human resources representative,” then goes to kill whoever needs killing, no questions asked. Sam doesn’t exactly enjoy the murder, but she certainly doesn’t mind. And she happens to be very good at it. After all, she grew up watching her mother do the exact same thing. But things change after two simple jobs snowball into something much bigger and much, much more dangerous.
Sam is assigned to take out an accountant who stole a large amount of money from the Firm. It’s only after she finds him—and shoots him in the stomach—that she realizes he only stole the money because a group of thugs have kidnapped his eight-year-old daughter in order to blackmail him.
This changes things. This isn’t just another job anymore—this is an innocent girl in danger. Sam decides to veer off her assignment to save Emily, the accountant’s daughter, putting her on the bad side of the Firm and its many, many highly trained employees. And it doesn’t help that one of the casualties of Sam’s last job was the son of Jim McAlester, a powerful mob boss who’s hungry for revenge.
With every assassin within a 100-mile radius after her, Sam is forced to team up with her estranged mother and a few librarians/former assassins to protect Emily and, with any luck, get through the night alive.
Sam has a soft spot for kids due to her tumultuous childhood, a soft spot that leads her to risk her life to protect Emily. Nathan warns her that going back for the girl will cause the Firm to come after her, but she ignores him. Sam constantly puts herself in danger to protect Emily, who proves to be a good influence on her as well. At one point, she stops Sam from killing a defenseless doctor.
The movie features themes that celebrate sisterhood and motherhood. Sam and her mother Scarlet may not have had the best relationship growing up. But after reconnecting, they put their past aside to protect each other. The librarians—Anna May, Madeleine and Florence—also go to great lengths to take care of Sam and Emily. There’s very little these women wouldn’t do for each other, and there’s nothing Scarlet wouldn’t do to take care of her daughter.
Scarlet doesn’t look back fondly on her days as an assassin. She has several regrets. And though she loves Sam unconditionally, Scarlet’s upset that her daughter followed in her vocational footsteps. “I never wanted this life for you,” she tells her.
In a flashback, a young Sam faces down a Russian thug at a diner who wears a necklace with a cross pendant. Sam uses the phrase “thank God” a few times (“Thank God I’m not in a killing mood,” “Thank God we’re going straight to the hospital”).
When threatened by a Russian thug, a young Sam tells him in Russian to “go kiss a pig.”
Remember when I said Sam doesn’t mind killing? Well, neither do her mother and the librarians. These five women carve through the dozens of thugs sent after them, leaving a trail of bodies that rivals John Wick’s slaughter. Stylized violence is constant; often, it feels as if the film is trying to one-up itself in terms of how much blood it can show and shed. People get shot in the head, stabbed, and beaten; and we’re usually treated to closeup views of the gory aftermath.
Sam is confronted by several hitmen from the Firm in a bowling alley. With no guns at her disposal, she incapacitates them using a suitcase, bowling balls and her bare hands. Sam also snaps multiple bones, smashes one man’s hands with another’s head, cracks one of them over the head with a bowling ball and much more. Blood splatters with every impact.
We catch a glimpse of a body that’s been decapitated in a car crash. Sam uses a heavy gun chest to crush one of the hitman’s heads, with blood pooling on the floor. Florence, one of the librarians, uses a chain to hang a man by the neck; we see his legs twitching as he chokes to death. A man gets blown up by a grenade, and his limbs are scattered in the explosion.
Long story short: Gunpowder Milkshake leaves little to the imagination. Yes, there will be blood, and it flows by the gallon.
The f-word is used 16 times, the s-word twice. “H-ll” is used five times, and God’s name is taken in vain four. Other expletives include “d–n”, “b–ch” and “b–tard.” Sam and the librarians occasionally use “fudge” as a substitute for the f-word when Emily is within earshot.
A doctor gives laughing gas to a patient as anesthesia before using some himself. Later, a group of hitmen from the Firm get high off of it, laughing uncontrollably. The doctor forcibly injects Sam with a drug that paralyzes her arms.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: yes, Sam is a professional killer; and yes, she murders multiple people without much remorse.
The film doesn’t necessarily glorify her choice of career (Scarlet regrets her time spent killing, and she’s sorry that Sam picked up her way of life), per se. But it does arguably attempt to justify her actions by claiming that just because she pulls the trigger, it doesn’t mean it’s really her killing them. After all, didn’t someone else send her to do it? When Emily asks Sam why she kills people, she answers with a simple “it’s complicated”—though it’s hard not to assign her some blame while watching her stab an unarmed enemy with the sharp end of a broken broom handle.
Betrayal is, not surprisingly, a plot twist that shows up in the storyline as well.
Gunpowder Milkshake is rife with soundtrack needle drops. But arguably the most memorable comes in the climactic fight scene: “Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin plays while Sam, Scarlet, and the librarians litter the library floor with bodies. “Each time I tell myself that I, well I think I’ve had enough,” Joplin sings. “But I’m gonna show you, baby, that a woman can be tough.”
By the film’s definition, Sam is undeniably a tough woman. She takes bullets with barely a flinch, thinks on her feet, and is able to defend herself against legions of men who are much bigger and stronger than her.
But it’s in the softer moments that Sam shows how strong she really is. It’s when she decides to sacrifice herself to save Emily, and when she refrains from taking revenge on the men responsible for trying to kill her, knowing that it’ll only lead to regret.
There’s a lot about our heroine worth commending—just as there’s a lot about her, and the film itself, that isn’t.
At its core, Gunpowder Milkshake is about sisterhood, sacrifice, and making the right choices even in the face of certain death. It’s a shame, then, that the story’s core is surrounded by an incredible amount of violence and a lack of regard for human life. For every tender moment between Sam and Emily, at least 10 dead bodies hit the floor.
“There’s not a single person on this earth I’d rather kill people with,” Scarlet tells Sam as they prepare to face another wave of disposable thugs. In that one sentence, she perfectly summarizes Gunpowder Milkshake, for all of its strengths and all of its flaws.
Lauren Cook is serving as a 2021 summer intern for the Parenting and Youth department at Focus on the Family. She is studying film and screenwriting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. You can get her talking for hours about anything from Star Wars to her family to how Inception was the best movie of the 2010s. But more than anything, she’s passionate about showing how every form of art in some way reflects the Gospel. Coffee is a close second.