Thursday, November 15, 2018

Movie with Abe: Widows

Directed by Steve McQueen
Released November 16, 2018

There are certain things audiences have come to expect when they go to see a movie. The notion of “playing against type” involves an actor or actress taking on a role that doesn’t fit with their previous work, and it’s a gamble that often pays off. A film turning everything on its head, however, isn’t as common, reframing traditional ideas of strength and survival. Men might typically be at the center of movies about robbers, but this is far from an ordinary film in so many ways.

When her husband Harry (Liam Neeson) is killed in a botched robbery, Veronica (Viola Davis) learns that she is now responsible for paying back the man he stole from, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who is exploring his political ambitions with the help of his enforcer brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya). Mourning but resolved, Veronica finds two of her husband’s partners’ widows, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), who, along with Linda’s babysitter Belle (Cynthia Erivo), will execute the job that Harry planned out before he died, settling their debts and leaving them each some moderate degree of financial support.

There are many elements of this film that turn what could be an ordinary heist and revenge tale into something much more complicated and sophisticated. Director Steve McQueen, whose last feature film, “12 Years a Slave,” won the Oscar for Best Picture, adapts a 2002 miniseries of the same name into this project, which confronts issues of race, class, and gender in present-day Chicago. McQueen and Davis described at a discussion after a screening how even Veronica’s interracial pairing with Harry seems jarring to many, and is not something often seen on screen. This confrontation of modern issues is smartly wrapped up and intriguingly embedded in a furiously interesting story full of drama and action.

Davis, who took home an Oscar in 2016 for “Fences,” delivers a powerful lead performance as Veronica, whose stern, unfaltering energy fuels the film. Debicki, who was also terrific in this year’s “The Tale” and “Breath,” is exceptional as Alice, whose appearance and demeanor doesn’t even come close to conveying her strength and ability. Erivo impresses in a comparatively minor role, and Henry of “Atlanta” and Kaluuya of “Get Out” trade their typically reserved personalities to play enormously compelling and terrifying villains. McQueen crafts a mesmerizing film that combines startling thriller moments with strong drama, tied together by its superb cast. This film delivers way beyond its potential, involving and exciting on all fronts.


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