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Monday, November 19, 2018


Steve McQueen has hitherto been associated with artistically ambitious movies aimed at the top end of the market, culminating in his Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave. Now he tries his hand at a heist thriller, with excellent results. (Review by Patrick Compton. 9/10)

The combination of director Steve McQueen and pulp crime writer Lynda La Plante is not an obvious one, but the result, as represented in Widows, his fourth movie after Hunger, Shame and 12 Years a Slave, is a significant and perhaps surprising success.

McQueen, who was reportedly a fan of the 1983 TV mini-series, has teamed up with Gone Girl author Gillian Fynn to pour the six-part series into a two-hour feature film.

The result is a triumph with script and direction – not to mention the acting chops of a superb cast – adding depth, quality and smart characterisation into what is essentially a genre picture.

The story, which has been transferred from London to Chicago, is about what happens to the widows of a crime gang who are killed after a botched heist. It transpires that in the process gang boss Henry (Liam Neeson) had stolen $2 million from a criminal-turned-politician, Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry), who intended to use the cash to run a local political campaign.

Henry’s wife, Veronica (Viola Davis), professes to know nothing about her husband’s business life, but she is threatened by Jamal who gives her a month to repay the money, or else. Veronica tracks down the other widows of the gang, tells them what has happened, and suggests a way forward.

This involves the women taking up the criminal baton from their dead men, after Veronica discovers Henry’s notebook setting up all the necessary details of a future robbery that he planned would net him and his associates $5 million. Instead, it now becomes an opportunity for their women who must grow wings of a very different order.

The plot is complex, the tension very real and some of the violence is extremely red-blooded, but the real joy of this film is McQueen’s tight, beautifully controlled direction, the in-depth characterisation of the performers and the word-perfect script.

Viola Davis is first among equals among the actors, suggesting depths of grief about her marriage and family as well as a determination not to be sidelined by men in a society that remains intensely patriarchal. She is joined by Elizabeth Debicki, so good in the BBC adaptation of John le Carré’s The Night Manager, who gives an exceptional performance as a seemingly naïve woman who grows in maturity and self-confidence every minute that passes. The third wife, played by Michelle Rodriguez, is a powerful portrait of a woman who finds new life after the death of her domineering husband. There are also small, punchy roles for Colin Farrell, Carrie Coon, Jon Bernthal, Lukas Haas and Robert Duvall.

Another performance that catches our attention, albeit in an entirely malignant vein, is that of Daniel Kaluuya who plays his wannabe politician father’s son and ferocious fixer.

This is a high-quality thriller, wonderfully contrived and finely performed by a top-class cast that is strongly recommended.

Widows opened at Gateway on November 16. – Patrick Compton