Widows – Film Review

Steve McQueen’s 2011 film Shame is a personal favourite.  It does everything a great film should do – capture emotion on screen, and create emotion for those watching it.  His other films aren’t too shabby either, with Hunger (2008) being a true artistic vision of real story, and 12 Years a Slave (2013) a comprehensive cinematic experience of large themes.  He’s an elite director, with a wonderful eye for detail and a transcendent relationship with his actors.  Widows is a new step for him, a jump into the genre movie with the weight of expectation on his shoulders.

McQueen co-wrote the film with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and it stars just about anyone you can think of.  It’s an ensemble cast, with Viola Davis at the centre as the grieving wife of a criminal, played by Liam Neeson.  When gangster come politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) knocks on her door looking for the money her husband stole of him in his fatal heist, she has to band together the wives of the rest of her husband’s deceased crew, to pull off a job to pay Manning.  Set in contemporary Chicago, a political race is also mixed in there, with dodgy product of the system Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) going up against wildcard Manning.

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For a movie with a simple premise, there is a lot going on.  In the first hour I was wondering where all the threads would come together, and why there were so many players bouncing in and out scene by scene.  However all this mix and matching is entertaining, thanks to this incredible cast and quick pacing.  The movie races along, but McQueen gives each actor time to breathe.  Davis had the potential to be annoying in this role, but is measured enough to keep the film’s empathy balanced, rather than over the top.  Farrell is sleazy, but mostly pathetic and it was like watching a dog that had been run over most of the time.  Elizabeth Debicki is totally believable as the underdog, and the highlight of any of the actual heist stuff.  The standout by far is Daniel Kaluuya, who is absolutely terrifying, in a fun way, and his scenes probably took the shine off the rest of the movie.

After the first hour, the film gears towards the heist more, and this was a negative for me.  The least interesting thing about this film is the heist, because when it came down to it the stakes felt very low, and unimportant.  I would have been happy if the film got to the final act and the characters were like actually no we can’t pull this off, credits.  And I’m not saying the women weren’t convincing as capable of doing it, they were, but seeing them try and get on with their lives after losing their husbands was more intriguing.  So the film becomes a bit of a romp, which I’m fine with, because it was well directed, and exciting.  However the political games between poverty and the institutionalised, Kaluuya’s madness, and Debicki’s new means of income completely overshadowed the need for a final act robbery.

There is a real sense of place throughout the movie, and its greatest strength was its geography.  The best scene in the film is a shot from a car bonnet, where you can hear Mulligan (Colin Farrell) and his assistant (Molly Kunz) talking candidly in the back of the car, but you can’t see them.  It’s a single take where the car moves from the projects to the suburbs, and perfectly illustrates the contrast in wealth in such a short amount of distance.  And that idea of a decaying, façade-ridden city is the theme that worked the most.  McQueen and Flynn throw in added social issues towards the end of the movie, that didn’t have an impact because of their briefness.  There’s also a third act revelation that felt unneeded, and it made the final few moments unsatisfying for me.

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This is one of those films where there is a lot to talk about, which I like.  I understand why the majority of critics have applauded this film, it’s good and I enjoyed it.  There were a few things that didn’t sit right with me, and it’s a shame that the better parts of the film stayed in the background.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes.  In the end this movie is a solid cinema experience, for any mainstream audience, something I wouldn’t say for McQueen’s previous films.

The Commuter – Film Review

Liam Neeson is 65 years old.  Can you believe that?  And he’s still just about making action movies.  This one is a mix of thriller slash mystery slash punching people in the face and directed by Neeson’s most recent common collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop, Run all Night).  Neeson plays insurance salesman and ex-cop Michael MacCauley who commutes to work every day via a metro train.  On his way home from just being fired he is confronted by a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) who offers him a challenge for cash.  All he has to is find the person who doesn’t belong on the train, but soon it gets way more intense than that.

The first thing you will notice about the film is how dark it is visually.  It’s so dark that at times it’s hard to understand what’s going on and it’s a strange choice by the director.  The first half of the movie is set in the day, but looks as though they shot it at night.  Perhaps it’s to do with an attempt to hide the needed CGI in this film, because it only had a budget of $30 million.  Either way it distracted me throughout, and made most of the action scenes unclear.  The action is shot decently, if a bit messy, and there’s one particular moment involving a guitar that is actually pretty fun.  I wouldn’t say the action scenes are well choreographed or full of peril, but at times they were outlandishly entertaining.

Neeson is good enough at carrying the physicality of the film, however it’s clear how limited his abilities are now at his age.  He’s become an action icon in the last 10 years and that has diminished some of his acting talent.  In this film he’s given some shocking lines, and overall it makes his performance quite wooden.  Collet-Serra is obviously not an actor’s director because I felt that way about the rest of the cast.  There was no sense of space for them to do anything, which is a shame because it left the film empty.  And when the action isn’t really that compelling, it leaves the film nothing to really fall back on.  It tries to fall back on a convoluted plot that has too many moving parts.  The film really overcomplicates itself and with no real focus I found myself losing interest as it got towards the end.

There are moments of excitement and intrigue in this film, but once it got going I knew exactly what I was going to get out of it.  Which wasn’t much, because the film isn’t made with any grace.  The writing lacked any sort of style and seemed to constantly go for the common denominator.  It was enjoyable enough in the cinema, and honestly if they had turned the brightness up a bit I would have liked it a lot more.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

No.