Ben Cherry reviews Widows, showing at Plymouth Arts Centre until this Saturday (tickets available here).
A film by Steve McQueen is something to get excited about. Hunger, Shame and 12 Years a Slave are three of the best films of the last decade. All three films tell human but emotionally exhausting stories. London-born director McQueen rarely shies away from some of the harsher realities of our past or present and there are images and moments in all three that have stayed with me, even though I have seen them only once or twice.
Widows is another exceptional addition to Steve McQueen’s filmography and whilst it deals with some dark themes, it is a refreshingly easier film to watch and undoubtedly the director’s most accessible film. Viola Davis heads up one of the best ensemble casts of the year and stars as Veronica Rawlings whose husband and his crew are killed in a fiery blaze after a heist goes wrong. When shady crime boss Jamal Manning, (who is also a local politician), turns up at her home asking for the two million dollars her husband owns, Veronica decides to act quickly. She recruits the crew members’ widows and orchestrates a heist in order to pay back the debt and to avoid any further trouble from Manning and his violent tendencies.
The plot may sound fairly similar to other crime or heist films but the film has an ambitious scope and if anything is more like The Wire than say Ocean’s 11 as it ultimately is telling the story of the city of Chicago and the huge divide between the rich and the poor. It has been mentioned a lot but there is one unforgettable scene where Colin Farrell’s Jack Mulligan, (who is campaigning to be the alderman of the district where the film is set), after giving an impassioned speech, gets in his car and is driven back to his home. Whilst the conversation carries on, the camera is focused on the surrounding neighbourhood and it takes all of two minutes to go from poverty and deprivation to rich, white suburbia. It is a startling sequence, on par with the near-twenty minute single shot in Hunger or Michael Fassbender breaking down in the rain in Shame.
The cast are all excellent and Widows is a true ensemble piece. Every character gets their spot in the limelight and every plot strand is interestingly told. The four central characters are the real standouts here and I’d be surprised if Viola Davis didn’t at least get an Oscar nomination. She is a commanding screen presence and you do not doubt for one second that she is capable of pulling off this heist. Michelle Rodriguez is used well here and refreshingly isn’t playing her usual hard-ass, no nonsense role like she does in Resident Evil and Fast and Furious. Her character, Linda Perelli is more measured and reflective of the situation that she has found herself in. Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Evrio round off the rest of the quartet and bring some much needed levity to the proceedings.
The remaining stand-outs are Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall who play father and son politicians Jack and Tom Mulligan. Duvall at 87 doesn’t pop up in films as frequently anymore and The Godfather legend is always great to see and Farrell subtly continues to be brilliant in interesting and thought-provoking material. Having recently been in The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, he seems to be going through a career peak and long may it continue. Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) is also absolutely terrifying as Jamal Manning’s muscle and gives a performance that rivals Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.
Widows is certainly the first Steve McQueen film that can be classed as enjoyable. With his previous films focusing on slavery, a sex addict and the IRA, Widows feels positively light and entertaining in comparison. It is much more mainstream than his previous three and the final thirty minutes are as brutally intense as you would expect. The film is totally engaging with a brilliant and diverse cast where the men play second fiddle to the women, offering a fresh spin on the heist film. Widows is the perfect film to see out the old Looe Street building before it closes on Saturday 1st of December and the Plymouth Arts Centre moves to its new location at Plymouth Art College.