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Widows (Steve McQueen) - Review

Widows

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

TAKEN at face value, you could be forgiven for thinking that Steve McQueen – director of such challenging films as Hunger, Shame and 12 Years A Slave – has decided to take it easy, go mainstream and have some fun with an update of Lynda La Plante’s 80s TV series, Widows. But you’d be wrong.

Rather, the filmmaker has taken a well worn genre [the heist movie] and given it his own gritty spin, albeit with a little help from writer Gillian Flynn (of Gone Girl and Sharp Objects fame), who helped co-pen the script. The result is a muscular thriller of the highest order that lacks none of the social awareness or political heft of past McQueen presentations.

And if the plot sounds relatively straight-forward, the execution is far from it. This is complex, hard-hitting stuff that asks as many questions of its audiences as it does of its central protagonists. It is utterly engrossing.

The film opens with a bang, as master thief Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his gang flee a botched robbery, only to be penned in and gunned down by members of Boston’s police. The last job in question saw Rawlings attempting to steal a couple of million dollars from hustler-turned-would be politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who may be running for office against political heavyweight Jack Mulligan (Colin Farell), but who nevertheless wants his money back.

It’s left to Rawlings widow, Veronica (Viola Davis), to do just that, forcing her to recruit the widows of Harry’s late crew to help. These include Michelle Rodriguez’s struggling mother and Elizabeth Debicki’s abused wife as well as Cynthia Erivo’s streetwise hairdresser-cum-babysitter.

Rather than focus on the machinations of the heist itself, or building the camaraderie between the unlikely robbers, McQueen’s film is far more content looking at the cause and effect of their predicament. As a result, his film feels like a damning indictment of contemporary America for anyone willing to delve deeper.

There’s political corruption, there’s gender bias and institutional racism, there’s social division and there’s all kinds of abuse (from physical to emotional via corporate and beyond). McQueen appears to be holding his lens up to the social ills afflicting America at the moment, with more than a few pot-shots taken at the Trump regime.

This is never better realised than during a real-time drive sequence, in which Farrell’s politician laments his position in life while driving between a ghetto-like, poverty stricken slum to his own luxury mansion just minutes down the road. It’s a clever directorial touch that says so much without feeling ever as though it’s hammering home a point.

But his film is riddled with such moments – whether it’s in the looks between characters, the pain etched on faces, or the way he chooses to frame a sequence, or drop in an astute flashback. No matter what’s going on in the foreground, McQueen is continually providing plenty to chew on in the background.

Incredibly, he manages to do this without losing sight of either the quality of the characters, or the tension needed to keep the plot so tightly wound. For all the violence, cruelty and suffering on show, there is compassion, loyalty and love – and his cast grasp the opportunity to convey all of this.

Widows

Davis is once again formidable as a wife and grieving mother who must become as career hardened as her late husband in order to operate in a man’s world. And yet, while exuding a tough exterior, there’s tremendous hurt, heartache and anger… all expertly conveyed in what could be another Oscar-nominated performance at the very least.

Rodriguez is great, too, cast somewhat against type in a more everyman role, while Debicki makes a believable journey from victim to go-getting member of the crew. Erivo also brings street-wise smarts and a keen sense of compassion to her role.

Of the men, Neeson is terrific despite limited screen time (he gets one especially memorable moment at a funeral flashback), while Farrell is nicely conflicted as a smarmy politician who you almost believe in wanting to do better than his dad (a typically towering Robert Duvall).

Tyree Henry is also great as Manning, suitably imposing, while Daniel Kaluuya is a genuinely chilling right-hand man with a penchant for violence, as well as a flair for it too.

Widows offers an embarrassment of riches, from its hard-hitting content to its beautifully realised sense of style, not to mention the mouth-watering quality of its performances and its clever dissection of contemporary American woes. It even boasts another brilliantly realised score from Hans Zimmer, as well as at least two eye-catching set pieces.

It’s a film to bankrupt the superlatives.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 10mins
UK Release Date: November 6, 2018

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