Sunday, November 25, 2018
Widows (2018 film)
Based on the British TV series from 1983 to 1985, Widows is the story of a group of women whose husbands had been killed in a botched heist forcing the women to carry out a heist of their own to pay back the money their husbands had stolen. Directed by Steve McQueen and screenplay by McQueen and Gillian Flynn, the film is an unconventional heist drama that involves the widows of a few men as they learn in pulling a heist as they deal with all sorts of forces in the world of politics and crime. Starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Carrie Coon, Jacki Weaver, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson. Widows is a gripping and eerie film from Steve McQueen.
A group of women, whose husbands had been killed following a botched heist, learn they owe a man who is running for office $2 million forcing them to embark on a heist to pay him back as they only have one month to do the job. It’s a film with a simple premise that play into a trio of women whose husbands had been killed in a heist while one of the widows chooses to not be involved as none of them have an idea of how to carry out a bigger heist to owe this man the money their husbands had stolen. The film’s screenplay by Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn has a straightforward narrative with some flashback sequences that play into the events of the botched heist and the life of one of the widows in Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) who is still in shock not just over what her husband Harry (Liam Neeson) did but also the fact that they lost a son a decade earlier.
Being caught in the middle of a contentious election race for alderman at a small area in Chicago between Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) and a crime boss in Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) as the latter is trying to become legitimate. Veronica realizes that Harry and his crew had stolen $2 million from Manning who confronts Veronica in wanting his money back with his brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) keeping an eye on her as he’s also his brother’s enforcer. Left with just a book of all of Harry’s plans for the heists including one that was supposed to be the next heist, Veronica decides to contact the other widows that include clothing store owner Linda Pirelli (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki) as neither women nor Veronica have a clue in trying to plan a heist as they are willing to learn from Harry’s book. While Linda and Alice are given assignments in to get certain things despite their lack of knowledge, they do see the bigger picture with Alice feeling resentful towards her late husband for putting her in debt knowing what he did.
Alice however wasn’t sure about what her husband did as she reluctantly becomes an escort as she and Linda both help Veronica with the heist as Linda would bring in her kids’ babysitter Belle (Cynthia Erivo) who discovered a key connection between the botched heist, Mulligan, and Manning at the beauty shop she works at. The screenplay doesn’t just play into the motivations of these women but also this underbelly of corruption from both Manning and Mulligan as the latter is trying to fill in the role that his father Tom (Robert Duvall) had been sitting at as he’s trying to maintain his own ideals into his son. It raises questions into the heist that Harry and his crew were involved in as did they know it would involve this contentious political race? This forces the widows to answer these questions themselves as well as deal with all of the chaos and loss they had to endure.
McQueen’s direction is definitely intense in terms of the tight visuals and compositions he creates as well as that air of suspense that occurs for the heist scenes in the film. Shot on location in Chicago, McQueen uses the location to create this air of social divide from the spacious and comfortable penthouses and posh homes that Veronica, the Mulligans, and Alice lived in to the more working-class and poor environment that Linda, Belle, and Manning is at. McQueen would use wide shots to play into the locations as well as some intricate tracking and long shots for scenes that establish some of the drama such as an off-screen conversation between Mulligan and his campaign manager Siobhan (Molly Gunz) as it is presented in one take. It’s one of the more unconventional elements McQueen would create as it adds to this drama over the idea of ambition and who it would impact for all of the wrong reasons.
McQueen’s usage of close-ups add to the drama as it relates to loss which include a few flashback scenes involving Veronica as it relates to her marriage but also events that impacted her marriage to Harry such as the death of their son Marcus (Josiah Shefee). It’s not just Veronica that feels lost but also Linda and Alice where the former meets a man asking him about a building blueprint as he had just lost his wife as it’s a moment of two people who are both coping with loss. For Alice despite being in an abusive relationship with her husband, she is defined by being in a marriage and has a need for companionship but has to come to terms that she needs to live for herself. McQueen does maintain this need for feminism in the film as it is clear that they’re living in a world driven by men though Mulligan’s duty for campaigning is really masterminded by Siobhan.
McQueen’s approach to the violence is unsettling such as a scene of Jatemme confronting a couple of young men over the film’s opening heist scene which is told with a sense of immediacy. The scene has McQueen present everything in one take as he knows when to pull the trigger and then some as it is shocking while the film’s climatic heist is more about location and timing rather than violence. Still, it is followed by an aftermath about who runs the show in terms of the heist but these are women who aren’t from the world of crime and they don’t play by the rules since they don’t know nor care about the rules of the underworld. Even as it involves powerful forces who are trying to maintain some idea of power yet those who are impacted by this play of power would eventually reap from what they sow. Overall, McQueen crafts a rapturous yet astonishing film about a group of widows who plan a heist to pay back the money their husbands stole from men of power.
Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography for its usage of dreamy yet naturalistic lighting for some of the daytime exterior scenes at Veronica’s apartment as well as the usage of low-key lights for some of interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor Joe Walker does amazing work with the editing as its usage of rhythmic cuts and montages help play into the drama as well as in some of the suspenseful moments where it doesn’t emphasize too much on style in favor of something more controlled in its execution. Production designer Adam Stockhausen, with art directors Gregory S. Hooper and Heather Ratliff plus set decorator Elizabeth Keenan, does fantastic work with the look of the homes of the widows as well as the home office of Manning and the posh home of the Mulligans. Costume designer Jenny Eagan does nice work with the costumes from the posh clothes that Veronica and Alice wears to the more casual look of Linda and Belle.
Special effects supervisor Michael Gaspar and visual effects supervisor Lars Andersen do terrific work with some of the film’s big effects as it relates to the film’s first heist scene as well as a key moment during the film’s climax. Sound editors Paul Cotterell and James Harrison do superb work with the sound as it captures the atmosphere of the violence in the opening scenes as well as some of the crowd moments and the conversation between Mulligan and Siobhan in their car off-screen. The film’s music by Hans Zimmer is excellent for its low-key yet eerie score that feature some heavy string arrangements as well as some ambient-based pieces while music supervisor Ian Neil provides a soundtrack that is mostly diegetic as it include songs by Nina Simone, W.A.S.P., Al Green, Michael Jackson, Procol Harum, and a few others plus a song by Sade that is performed in the film’s final credits.
The casting by Francine Maisler, Mickie Paskal, and Jennifer Rudnicke is great as it feature some notable small roles from Alejandro Verdin and Bailey Rhyse Walters as Linda’s kids, Bailee Brewer as Belle’s daughter, Adam Wesley Brown as an auction guy helping Alice find a van, Philip Rayburn Smith as a grieving man Linda meets about blueprints, Josiah Sheffie as Veronica and Harry’s late son Marcus, Matt Walsh as a securities man that Veronica blackmails, Adepero Oduye as a hair salon woman who is Belle’s boss, Jon Michael Wheel as a reverend Manning tries to win over, Molly Kunz as Mulligan’s campaign manager Siobhan, Coburn Goss as one of the thieves in the heist who is married to the fourth widow that is not involved, Jon Bernthal as Alice’s husband Florek, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Linda’s husband Carlos, Kevin J. O’Connor as a friend of Harry who provides Veronica some information about her husband, Lukas Haas as a real estate developer Alice would sleep with for money, and Garrett Dillahunt in a terrific small role as Veronica’s driver Bash who offers to help Veronica with the heist.
Liam Neeson is superb in a small role as Veronica’s husband Harry Rawlings as a master thief who has organized everything yet is mysteriously killed believing that he’s been set-up. Robert Duvall is fantastic as Mulligan’s son Tom as a government official who is forced to step down due to health issues while trying to maintain some of his old ideals where he finds himself not agreeing with his son who has bigger ideas. Carrie Coon is excellent as Amanda Nunn as a widow whose husband was killed in the heist as she has no interest helping Veronica in favor of her own safety while also carrying a secret about the heist. Jacki Weaver is brilliant as Alice’s mother as a woman who is trying to instill Alice ideas of being a housewife as well as suggest Alice to become an escort. Brian Tyree Henry is amazing as the crime boss Jamal Manning as a man that is eager to enter politics to be influential and have power.
Daniel Kaluuya is incredible as Jamal’s younger brother and enforcer Jatemme as a man that is watching over what Veronica does while taking of things that need to be taken care of with ruthless aggression. Colin Farrell is marvelous as Jack Mulligan as a politician who is taking over his father’s position as he is reluctant to be involved with politics yet realizes that it would give him a lot of power of wanting to make change in his ward. Cynthia Erivo is remarkable as Belle as a hairdresser who also works as a babysitter for Linda who also takes part in the heist after a discovery she made about Mulligan and what he’s trying to do proving that she’s a formidable ally.
Michelle Rodriguez is great as Linda Perelli as a clothing store owner who loses her business because of her husband’s dealings prompting her to join Veronica while dealing with her own grief as well as the difficulty of understanding what needs to be done. Elizabeth Debicki is sensational as Alice Gunner as a housewife who is initially reluctant to take part in the heist as she is someone used to being abused only to realize that things will get worse as she starts to help out. Finally, there’s Viola Davis in a phenomenal performance as Veronica Rawlings as a woman ravaged by grief as she is aware of what will happen to her as she decides to take action after finding her husband’s book prompting her to lead a heist with a few other women despite their inexperience as it’s a performance that has Davis show some strength and determination making it a career-defining feat for her.
Widows is a magnificent film from Steve McQueen. Featuring a great ensemble cast, haunting visuals, a chilling music score, intense editing, and a riveting story about ambition, power, and its impact on those who become directly involved. It’s a film that is an exploration of women dealing with the world of men that takes advantage of them forcing them to carry out a heist that many believe they couldn’t pull off as well as showing who has the power in a world that is corrupt and unruly. In the end, Widows is an outstanding film from Steve McQueen.
Steve McQueen Films: Hunger (2008 film) - Shame (2011 film) - 12 Years a Slave - The Auteurs #52: Steve McQueen
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