Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
The new crime thriller Widows is the first feature from director Steve McQueen since his 2013 Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave, and it is by far his most mainstream film to date. Set in contemporary Chicago, the movie follows a trio of widows whose criminal husbands died in a job stealing from a local mobster—and now they must pull off an even bigger job of their own in order to pay off the two million dollar debt.
The movie opens with perhaps the best first five minutes of a movie all year. It introduces each of the women and establishes the kind of relationships they had with each of their husbands, while at the same time showcasing the action of the heist gone bad that ultimately leads to them becoming widows, the inciting incident of the film. As informative as it is exciting, it gives us all the information we need to jump right into this story. The movie is then quick to introduce us to the two most important supporting players in the form of a political race for Alderman in the local ward—a race between Colin Farrell’s privileged scion of past Aldermen, and the man-from-the-streets challenger played by Brian Tyree Henry.
Henry’s candidate Jamal Manning is the man from whom the husbands recently stole the two million dollars, funds that he was planning to use for his campaign. The money was burned up when the van transporting it exploded. Fortunately, the leader of the gang left his journal for his wife, which describes the plans for the next job.
Although the movie’s first five minutes is action-packed, a more moderate pace is established for the rest of the film, leading up to the climactic heist sequence in the film’s final act. But that does not mean the film’s middle act is lacking in intrigue or excitement. It is filled with double-dealing, plot twists, and surprises, and a sadistic Daniel Kaluuya ready to cut down anyone in his way in order to obtain the score himself. There is so much going on in the script written by McQueen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn that it raises some questions about certain plot elements and character motivations when reflecting back on the film; but it is so darn entertaining in the moment that we don’t really care.
McQueen and his cinematographer Sean Bobbitt have also created one of the more visually fascinating crime thrillers in years. Whether it be shooting most of the opening car chase out the rear doors of the getaway van, spiraling around its characters in a gymnasium during a confrontation, or planting the camera on a hood of a car and showing just how thin the line is between the poverty and wealthy in Chicago simply by panning the camera from left to right, almost every shot in Widows is wondrous. As unique as some of these shots can be, with the possible exception of the shot from the car’s hood, they never draw attention away from the story, but instead, emphasize it.
The cast led by Viola Davis is an amazing ensemble. Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Elizabeth Debicki are the trio of widows at the movie’s center. They are joined midway through by Cynthia Erivo, who is having quite the fall season, both with this movie and her terrific performance in Bad Times at the El Royale last month. In a movie populated by characters who either live in the grey area or deep within the dark, these women are the clear light of the story and we are on their side from the get-go. Special shout-out to Olivia the dog, also, who pulls off the impossible by stealing almost every scene she is in from heavyweight Viola Davis.
Steve McQueen’s Widows is a crime thriller that takes the extra step that so many other movies seemingly fail to take these days. It pushes its story and characters right up to the edge while occasionally going over, which combines with the brilliant filmmaking on display here to create a memorable and exciting heist film worthy of praise.
Widows opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.
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