20th CENTURY FOX (2018)

 

Director: Steve McQueen

 

Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson, Carrie Coon

Steve McQueen is back.

 

After winning Oscar gold with 2013’s 12 Years a Slave, McQueen returns with the highly-charged Widows – an adaptation of a 1980’s BBC TV series. Regardless of people’s opinion at the time, that original certainly lacked the thunder that this iteration brings. Boasting an excellent ensemble cast and an intriguing story set against a crime-thriller-noir backdrop, it’s hard not to get excited at this movie.

When an armed robbery led by renowned criminal Harry Rawlings (Neeson) goes fatally wrong, local Chicago kingpin/politician-to-be Jamal Manning (Henry) seeks retribution (and the return of his millions) against the widows of those involved. With nothing in the common other than their husband's criminal exploits, de facto leader Veronica (Davis), shop owner Linda (Rodriguez), perennially-abused Alice (Debicki) and Belle (Erivo) take it upon themselves to save their futures - and their lives – by finishing the job that their husbands couldn’t.

 

Holy moly, does Widows deliver a ride? With its expert pacing and the feeling that every scene is vital, the movie has a momentum that only ramps up the further into it we get – and that’s just simply the narrative. The twists that occur are marvellous and the setups all receive a payoff. However, a movie cannot survive without top-notch performances, and Widows has them in spades. Viola Davis delivers a powerhouse performance as the emotionally beaten/charged widow of the gang leader and she really delivers. Part-vulnerable, part-brave, part-stoic but always badass, this is a magnificent performance from a hugely talented actress.  One scene with her hesitating in front of a closed door is furiously good and packed with tension. Her widows-in-crime are all strong together, including Rodriguez in an unfamiliar role and Cynthia Erivo who once again is excellent (having stolen the show in Bad Times at the El Royale ) whereas on the flipside, Daniel Kaluuya is chilling as the brother of Jamal/psychopath and Robert Duvall drips with racism and the old guard in his towering performance. Across the board, the ensemble cast is marvellous – crucially, the widows didn’t become superwomen taking on the world either (a la Peppermint).

 

Widows isn’t content to just be a heist movie. Woven into the narrative and script are commentaries/stabs at race, corruption, crime, politics, and, of course, gender. The fact that all of these are handled and presented without any heavy-handedness or the feeling of getting smashed around the face by it all is a testament to the excellent writing employed here. Everything feels vital and never overdone. The widows know they stand a chance because nobody would expect them to be able to do anything of this level, the struggles of race are shown effectively (and, sadly, are still prevalent) and who’d have thought it, the politicians are bastards. The twists and turns are fabulous and sprinkled in amongst it all is some humour as well – dark humour, but still. What the movie doesn’t do is present America in any sort of good light – the rampaging racism (including police attitudes) and the uneasy simplicity in purchasing deadly firearms that are depicted is frightening, and they’re just a few examples.

 

To complement everything else, the movie is shot excellently. The use of reflections is brilliant and there’s a real gritty feeling to the majority of the scenes – apart from the more glamorous sides of Chicago that jar against the desperate underworlds shown. This is shown so effectively in a scene with the camera following a car with Colin Farrell’s politician Jack Mulligan inside, but the camera is outside looking at the car as the surrounding areas change from grimy to glossy around them. The contrast is effectively portrayed.

 

McQueen has delivered a powerful, raw, effective, stylish and gripping movie packed with a range of issues whilst keeping it effortlessly watchable also. Viola Davis leads the way with a hurricane performance and everything about Widows is pretty much sensational. There’s very little to gripe about here.

November 6th 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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