Directed by Steve McQueen
Maybe the worst marketed film of all time, “Widows” is NOT a heist film. It’s a beautiful, yet occasionally violent, study on the effects of family deceit, grieving, greed, ambition, political legacy, the politics of race, and, of course, the ability of women to dynamite status quo patriarchal tropes in to oblivion. Yes, Steve McQueen has crafted a near perfect film (co-written by Gillian Flynn and based on Lynda LaPlante’s novel) that, in a mere ninety minutes, tackles all these subjects. And let’s throw in how economic castes infiltrate the sandbox. Oh, there’s a heist in there somewhere, but to call it a “Caper Flick” is about as correct as calling “Friday Night Lights” a show about football. In “Widows”, crime is merely the periphery and modus operandi of the world these people live in.
But what makes it so special is McQueen’s refusal to lose scenes that don’t seem to have anything to do with plot. It’s the interaction and dialogue amongst the minor characters that give the film its weight…its crackle . And when those minor characters are played by Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry and a never-better Robert Duvall, you’ve got something really special (read on for more on the film’s true stars). Yet, as only a director in full control of his talents can do, the story not only avoids being negatively impacted by these asides, it causes the stakes to grow ever higher. In that manner it hearkens back to a different time of film…more seventies-era Coppola, Joseph Sargent or William Friedkin…while never losing sight of the current day. And like many of those great films (“The Conversation”, “Taking of Pelham 123” or “French Connection”), I see this film aging with grace well beyond its born on date.
Two other reasons I feel the film will leave a lasting influence are: 1) it has, as its protagonist, an extremely strong and independent African-American woman. And, 2), and possibly more notably, a central married relationship built around an Irish-American (re: white) man and an African-American woman. But there’s really nothing I, as a privileged white male, have the right to say about the true depth of its meaning. Watch any Viola Davis interview for her detailed take on it. But I will say that, hopefully, this film can set a trend that renders these casting decisions utterly unremarkable. My only concern is that the film is not having great success at the box office, which, alas, is the final arbiter of what Hollywood does and doesn’t do. And as much as the marketing has hurt the film, I’m fairly certain that Trump’s divided (and racist) America is, likewise, negatively affecting the film’s bottom line.
All that said, this film revolves around three terrific performances by women; Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki. What can one say about Viola Davis that hasn’t already been said. She remains in that discussion of the two greatest actresses we have (sharing that lofty space with Ms. Streep). No different here. She is in total control of her emotions, which, in this film, span pretty much all of them. And just when you think she’s developed a specific organizing principle, along comes the very final scene – final words, in fact – to show you just how human Ms. Davis’ Veronica is.
Remember how you felt when you saw “I, Tonya” for the first time and thought how out of the blue Margot Robbie’s performance seemed? Well, remember, up until that point, she had merely been window-dressing for some man to rescue, fight for, trophy-ize, or abuse. Well, add Ms. Debicki to that meager list of woman who have escaped that prison of casting misogyny. If I’m being totally honest, I found her performance to be the more astonishing (which, to a large extent, comes down to how much we take Ms. Davis’ brilliance for granted).
Finally, in the glare of the fireball that is those two performances, it is only to be expected that the less fully written role inhabited by Ms. Rodriguez would seem slightly less than. But it certainly in no way detracts from the combined force of the triumvirate. And as stated the four men listed above give terrific performances, especially Henry and Duvall.
As for Hans Zimmer’s score, the lyrical selections continue to showcase his recent love of Vangelis-ish sound beds mixed with his Morricone-like themes. The “thriller” selections seem like outtakes from “Dunkirk”, which, as far as I’m concerned is awesome! But if you like a score where each piece is informed by one or two main themes, you might find it a little choppy. Me? I loved it, both within the film and without.
This is a beautiful, exciting, and brilliantly acted film. Ignore the commercials. Think of it as a Steve McQueen film…and GO! You will be greatly rewarded (as will the film come nomination time).
Written on 11/28/2018