Film review: ‘WIDOWS’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed”

Director Steve McQueen has distinguished himself with confronting and intelligent films that, while not highly experimental, avoid many of current cinema’s clichés. He impresses once again with a contemporary US adaptation – co-written by Gone Girl novelist Gillian Flynn – of Lynda la Plante’s 1980’s British crime drama Widows.

Leading a superb cast, Viola Davis plays Veronica, the wife of heavy criminal Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson). After Harry and his gang are killed during a botched robbery, a corrupt local politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) demands that Veronica pay him the money that was lost. With few options Veronica makes the risky decision to carry out a $5 million heist aided by the wives of the other members of Harry’s gang.

This is an impressive crime drama but it’s more than that. McQueen cleverly infuses the film with street smarts and political threads that suggest corruption throughout the halls of power in a way that recalls the grittiness and complexity of The Wire.  With its female-led cast, the film also explores issues of gender politics that evoke the #MeToo movement.

As the tough, clever, yet desperate and vulnerable Veronica, Viola Davis is typically sensational. This isn’t the sort of film that normally garners Oscar nods but she at least deserves a nomination. Elizabeth Debicki, whose statuesque frame and blonde hair are strikingly at odds with the grungy world around her, is also wonderful as the initially timid but increasingly assertive Alice. Michelle Rodriguez at first seems to be indulging her familiar tough woman persona but like just about everyone in this film, she adds intriguing layers and nuances to create a complex rounded character. Cynthia Erivo is once again mesmerising in an admittedly brief role and following her terrific turn in Bad Times at the El Royale proves she’s one of the most compelling performers around. The male cast members have less screen time but Colin Farrell, playing conflicted political aspirant Jack Mulligan, once again shows that, with the right material, he’s a fine actor. Robert Duvall also shows he lost none of his vigour as he portrays Mulligan’s foul-mouthed father and vicious political kingmaker.

While the writing, direction and performances are all excellent, Widows is a little slow moving, particularly in its first half as it moves its chess pieces into place. The action becomes more intense as the heist kicks into gear but McQueen never indulges in frivolous thrills as the crime always feels tense and precarious.

Widows not only invokes some of the best in recent television drama but harks back to 1970’s cinema where insightful crime films like Klute, Night Moves and the Taking of Pelham 123 formed a sort of neo-noir in the midst of Watergate and dying 60’s optimism. Perhaps, if nothing else, the current dismal political situation will inspire fine films like these and Widows.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Crime drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Steve McQueen.

Release date: 22nd Nov 2018.

Running time: 129 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show

 

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