Movie Review: ‘Widows’
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodrigues, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson, Garret Dillahunt, Lukas Haas
Plot: When a gang of career criminals perish in a job gone wrong their respective widows are left empty handed and picking up the pieces of their shattered lives. Desperate, they put their husband’s next plan into action.
Review: Steve McQueen has returned to our screens five years after taking home the Oscar for Best Director, teaming with Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn to turn a 25 year old ITV series into one of the hardest hitting crime dramas we’ve seen in years.
Yes, that means our expectations are high and yes, it delivers.
Here’s the trouble I have with the movie – it’s hard to describe the plot without it sounding like a zany caper, akin to something in the Ocean’s series. Think of it more like Michael Mann’s Heat, a complex and character driven look at a cross-section of the underworld and corrupt officials, with measured pacing and occasional shocking violence. All of this is supported by a damn fine ensemble cast.
Veronica (Davis) is the recently widowed wife of Harry (Neeson). With his death comes danger, as his most recent heist involved stealing from Jamal Manning (Henry). Manning is a crime boss turned politician who expects Veronica to pay him back for the $2million theft. When she finds Harry’s plans for a heist in his old notebook she recruits the other widows left by Harry’s failed robbery, Alice (Debicki) and Linda (Rodriguez) to put the plan into action. Whilst all this is going on we have Manning’s equally corrupt and powerful political rival MacMillan (Farrell), a brutal mob enforcer (Kaluuya), a furious power broker (Duvall), a babysitter (Erivo) who has some essential skills and other figures.
What we end up with is a diverse group of characters who would normally never cross paths discovering that they’re tied together through corruption and manipulation. What makes the story remarkable is how much detail has been sunk into each character. We get the chance to discover what kind of person they are not through hurried exposition but by taking the time to show them involved in their business or daily routine without initially knowing how they’re going to be worked into the story. It’s easy to become invested in their stories with this approach even when they’re sinking further into corruption themselves.
It must be said, McQueen could take half of Hollywood to school in terms of using the cinematic frame. He seems to be one of the few directors working today who is able remembers that the frame isn’t a flat, two dimensional plane but a window into a world that extends beyond the edges of the screen and vanishes into the distance. There’s all matter of well considered and experimental direction on display here. One specific example that stood out is a long tracking shot following Colin Farrell into his car, which then travels a few blocks down the road before he exits the vehicle, the entire time we still hear his dialogue even whilst he isn’t visible within the car but we do get a very clear look at the contrast between his life and the people he claims to support as the neighbourhood changes, calling back to dialogue we heard earlier in the movie.
This is a stand out sequence, but it’s not jarring since the movie is packed with moments like these, some more subtle than others but still present. We get a number of scenes where we only see one character’s reactions while the other is speaking from off-screen and plenty of carefully choreographed tracking shots. Different depths of field are used to excellent storytelling use, including one sequence where the audience doesn’t immediately have their attention drawn to an approaching car. All round excellent filmmaking.
The following paragraph alludes to spoilers. Skip past it if you want. The film gets 9/10 if you want to stop here.
Whilst the story is excellent and engaging, there is one aspect of it that drew shocked gasps from the audience and…I saw it coming. I find people who sit through movies trying to guess the ‘twist’ pretty tiresome and prefer to sit back and let the story unfold as intended, but I still saw this one. I’m not trying to brag, but I do think this issue could have been avoided with a different casting choice.
But that’s a minor quibble in and otherwise amazing film, a true modern masterpiece.
Rating: NINE out of TEN