The Movie Waffler London Film Festival 2018 Review - WIDOWS | The Movie Waffler

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London Film Festival 2018 Review - WIDOWS

widows film review
Four armed robbers are killed in a failed heist attempt, only to have their widows step up to finish the job.

Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Steve McQueen

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

widows film poster


Opening the 62nd edition of the BFI London Film Festival is the heist thriller Widows, directed by award-winning homegrown talent Steve McQueen. It’s a sublime work of art and spectacular piece of entertainment, powered by the director’s assured skill and collaboration with some of the industry’s supreme talents.

Using Lynda La Plante’s 1983 ITV series of the same name as the base, McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn (the scribe of Gone Girl and Sharp Objects) take the story of four widows setting out to complete the heist that their husbands died attempting, and move it from London to Chicago. The new setting opens up the opportunity to underpin the story with heavy political and social resonances to present-day America and the writers waste no opportunity to do so in their excellent storytelling.

widows film review

If you loved The Wire then you will love Widows. This isn't just a straightforward crime flick. Sure, there’s a robbery at the centre of it, but the motivations and potential ramifications are deeply embedded in the characters from before the widows even have their first meeting. A startlingly intense opening intercuts between the wives and husbands enjoying life at home, and the husbands attempting their heist and subsequently meeting their ends. Out of all of the couples, the no-nonsense Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) seems to be one most in the know, for after all, it was her husband Harry (Liam Neeson) who masterminded the plot. Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) is too occupied with her children and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) is slightly clueless. But when Veronica gathers them together, her blunt intentions convince the others to join in and collect the millions of dollars they need to get out of this mess.

The mess involves the two men running for the ward’s local alderman election, Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), son of a previous alderman Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall), and Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who’s gunning to be the first African-American alderman of the ward. The links between both men and the Rawlings run deep. The narrative connects the dots between criminals and politicians and how the cycle of crime begins and continues, and who can be held responsible for perpetuating this cycle, much like how the acclaimed HBO series depicted crime in Baltimore. There’s little subtlety in the overarching theme of dirty politics but the filmmakers excel in the subdued ways they capture other socially relevant strands including prostitution and race relations. It’s less successful when we hear some very basic commentary on the country at large that isn’t particularly fresh or insightful, such as when Alice asks where she can get a gun and Veronica retorts that they’re in America.

widows film review

However, what is fresh is the construction of this genre movie. As a heist thriller, Widows surely has the most cuts of any of his movies but, again, McQueen and his terrific cinematographer Sean Bobbitt prove capable of capturing compelling images by shooting from unique angles and actually holding a shot for more than a few seconds - a rare feat in similar contemporary films. One of the best examples is when the camera is placed on the hood of a car, facing the windshield at a slight angle, wherein Jack and his assistant have a searing racially-charged conversation while we pass through the ward and see how it’s been socio-economically affected.

Furthermore, regarding the director spinning our expectations of genre, he discloses information at his own unpredictable pace, which is perfect in allowing the twists to hit harder and make us re-evaluate our narrative expectations going forward. There are a fair few moments where things are spelt out for the audience, but maybe these can be forgiven for McQueen’s efforts in creating his most mainstream and accessible movie yet.

Everyone wants to work with Steve McQueen and Steve McQueen wants to work with everyone. Like with 12 Years a Slave, he employs a terrific cast from top to bottom. Listing all the stars would take a little long, and so would shortlisting the ones who deliver great performances. But, for what it's worth, the absolute standouts have to be: Viola Davis (obviously), Elizabeth Debicki, Brian Tyree Henry (a far cry from Atlanta’s Paper Boi as the most credible threat to the ruling Mulligan family) and Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning, Jamaal’s terrifying and extremely violent brother, reminiscent of the remorseless Chris and Marlo from The Wire. An honourable mention goes to Cynthia Erivo, who doesn’t appear until later but steals her scenes as the best possible accomplice to Veronica’s team.

widows film review

Awards talk could realistically happen all year long - especially in 2018 where we’ve seen a range of amazing performances throughout the past 10 months - but this is the time of year that the Academy remembers. Considering this, let’s hope Debicki is seriously considered for her first Oscar nomination. She is truly excellent in her depiction of a woman deeply conflicted with her relationship to her close ones and with herself. One who lets others have too much influence on her decisions but is ultimately willing to stand up for herself.

Returning among the auteur’s regular collaborators is Hans Zimmer, enlisted to provide a pulse-pounding score that propels the intensity to cosmic levels, especially in the utterly breathtaking climax. Of course, McQueen extends his hot streak but he couldn’t have done it without those working with him, especially Flynn with her screenplay contributions and the top-tier cast all on top of their game. Widows is a career highlight for everyone involved.

Widows is in UK/ROI cinemas November 6th.


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