Running Time: 129 minutes
Written by: Gillian Flynn & Steve McQueen
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Featuring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson
Veronica:[to her gang] “Now the best thing we have going for us, is being who we are.”
Veronica: “Because no-one thinks we have the balls to pull this off.”
Released this month on 4K, DVD and Blu-ray the latest film from Steve McQueen, “Widows” (2018) arrives just in time for the annual Academy Awards, it is easily as great as any of his other movies, my main question is why was this unique film pretty much ignored not only at the box office (it has made under US$70 million globally), but by critics as well as awards bodies, when “Widows” is exactly what is needed right now. That is a smart, focused, somewhat original, ensemble thriller that for all intents and purposes is more akin to “Heat” (1995) than anything else I have seen for a number of years, to top it off it is led by women who are all at the top of their games performance wise, with some excellent support from very able character actors, everyone involved in this film knows exactly what they are doing, this really is a modern masterpiece that will only get better as time goes by. This is a genre movie that like the best ones gives us a snapshot into who we are, who we would like to be as well as the fallacies that exist in modern society which is a gift as this is not a film that, on the surface, preaches in any way.
“Widows”, directed by Oscar winner Steven McQueen (best picture for “12 Years a Slave” (2013) who so far in his relatively short career has only made excellent films that are as different from each other as any could be, not only that they have all captured the imagination as well as their current zeitgeist, meaning his films feel of the moment – with an all female cast this one fits right in. McQueen has also co-written “Widows” with Gillian Flynn, who through her own novels is a master at writing for women as well as building tension with payoffs that seem satisfying to those that read her books. What I find most interesting as well as a great jumping off point is that this is a reimagining of an earlier television series that the great English crime author (and legend) Lynda La Plante developed in the 1970s/19080s, that ran over two series featuring some great actresses from that time period. McQueen and Flynn have kept what made that series great but have also been able to update it both stylistically as well as narratively by mixing in the melodrama, thriller as well as political genres to create something that not only fits within the general crime genre but compliments McQueen’s own oeuvre so that he is not making a knock off but is saying something about the times we inhabit on a number of very intimate levels.
While Steven McQueen is not primarily known for his visuals as a director it is important to note that each of his films has a certain look and feel, with each subsequent film looking more lush and cinematic as they have been released which in part goes to the director continually using cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. As a cinematographer Bobbitt’s work has never looked so good as it does here, with crisp whites as well as dark blacks that give the film a nourish look while being as clear as any similar movie has ever looked. A good contrast is that while “Heat” had a very steely quality to it that was almost clinical looking here we see every part of the screen and action that means we are seeing everything clearly as it unfolds much like the narrative they really compliment each other.
The movie is based around Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson), a renowned thief, who is killed alongside his partners Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Florek (Jon Bernthal), and Jimmy (Coburn Goss) during a botched robbery. His widow, Veronica (Viola Davis), is threatened by crime boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), from whom Harry and his partners robbed $2 million. Jamal needs the money to finance his electoral campaign for alderman of a South Side precinct, where he is running against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the next-in-line of the Mulligan political family who have historically dominated the alderman position.
For the second year in a row Viola Davis gives a tour de force performance in the lead role of a movie that contains either veteran actors, character actors or up and coming stars who you can tell are at the top of their game and who do not want to let their director down. Davis plays the matriarch with all the finesse we have come to expect going from a strong figure who at the beginning of the movie seems to be in charge of own story but as we peel back layers we see she has been suffering for some time not only being a second to her husband but also recovering from very personal losses. Of Davis’s group of ‘widows’ the standouts are Elizabeth Debicki in a fairly central role and Cynthia Erivo in a limited but effective part that goes to her strengths as well her under the radar casting which speaks to her talents. With the Australian Debicki who seems to have been on the brink of breaking out for what seems like a long time she really puts in a full rounded performance in a three dimensional character, that while it does land not a million miles away from Ashley Judd’s performance in the aforementioned “Heat”, here this character seems to force her way into decisions that she makes for herself with only a hint of escape from her life that she wants to hang onto much like but very different to Davis’s own character, the final scene in the films speaks to that in a very soft spoken and poignant way. “Widows” while featuring an absolutely massive cast does allow for great performances from everyone, even those that seemingly have small parts, which is a talent that few directors actually have, so it appears that McQueen is not only great at directing action but is also present for his actors. Once again Colin Farrell in a supporting role, which he is doing more and more, shines in a politically duplicitous part that is the underpinning of the entire film, he does superb work in a part that is the yin to Davis’s yang in so many ways, it also speaks to a larger story that exists which could have been a main narrative but again ends up being an undercurrent to all that is going on which pays off in more ways than one over the many narrative strands that exists within this film.
There are so many other performances that are just terrific but far too many to go into here, suffice to say that while viewing this film any audience will be knocked out by the depth of talent as well as how that talent match’s performance so well. There are really no false notes, possibly that is the reason why this has not had some well deserved awards recognition in that there are just too many to chose from which in turn has led to the film being more or less dismissed which is a crime to be sure.
Only in the best way possible would I compare this to a new millennium “Heat”, that is not to be reductive as this movie is much more of a drama as well as of course female centred which is not exactly a twist as the source material was definitely female centred as well. Much like all of Lynda La Plante’s work it is female centred but offers a chance to look into the actual lives of those it is concerned with, one only has to look at the Viola Davis character to see that she makes a decision to not wither on a vine but to take charge creating her own story that comes to a head when she discovers the reason for her predicament might not exactly be how she has perceived it.
I only wish this was a film review so I could convince people to go and see this in cinemas, it is so good and deserves to be seen that way, however a good second is on 4K where it pops so much that it jumps off the screen. But we are dealing with a home release so I cannot recommend this highly enough, my only disappointment is that the 4K version does not come with a complimentary Blu-ray as it would have been nice to have had some special features.