More noise than signal

Widows

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

The trailer for Widows made it out to appear like one of the most generic heist plots imaginable, with the exception perhaps of the gender expectation. But when it goes on to say “Directed by Steve McQueen”, well, now it has my attention.

Viola Davis’ mild mannered teacher Veronica Rawlings’ life is flipped, turned upside down when her husband and career thief, Liam Neeson’s Harry and his crew are killed in a botched heist attempt, against what turns out to be a dangerous crimelord. This comes back to bite Veronica when said crimelord, Brian Tyree Henry’s Jamal Manning, and his disturbing enforcer brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) decide that Veronica is on the hook for the $2 million that Harry robbed from them.

Seeking a way to raise the money before they collect on her life, she discovers Harry’s cache of heist plans, detailing one $5 million job that will strike at the heart of the city’s corrupt council members – although this is set in Chicago, so perhaps “corrupt” goes without saying – in particular the elections for alderman that Colin Farrell’s Jack Mulligan is fighting with Jamal Manning, with Mulligan somewhat unwillingly looking to continue the political dynasty from his father Tom (Robert Duvall)’s long running stint.

Needing a crew to carry out the plan, she approaches the widows of Harry’s crew, Michelle Rodriguez’s Linda Perelli, whose seemingly successful apparel shop was repossessed to pay for deadbeat husband’s gambling debts, and Elizabeth Debicki’s Alice Gunner, initially at least something of a trophy wife who has had to turn to escorting to support herself. They also draft in sometime babysitter/beautician Cynthia Erivo’s Belle to the scheme and go about planning and executing it, the details of which are best left to the watcher to discover.

If I had a complaint about this film, it’s perhaps that some of the b-plots, like the whole political corruption deal, felt like it could have done with more space to breathe, and would perhaps have been better suited to a mini-series. So, perhaps no surprise to see that this was, in fact, adapted from an 80’s mini-series, a British Lynda La Plante joint I’d never previously heard of, so no comment on that aspect, but thankfully this is a script and a cast that can pack quite a lot of meaning into a few nods and glances.

This could, perhaps open it up to being thought of as a slender plot skeleton with a lot hanging off it, and perhaps, strictly speaking that’s correct, but when it’s drowning in this much excellent character work it’s hard to be too upset about that. The leads are superb, with some real sense of character progression and many, many great small moments and deft touches that show the quality of the cast and indeed McQueen. Even Michelle Rodriguez, which may surprise Drew.

The supporting cast are just as effective, from Daniel Kaluuya’s menace, Farrell and Duvall’s interplay, or Garret Dillahunt’s sympathetic turn as the Rawlings’ driver cum bodyguard. There’s a lot of plot threads running through this, and while they don’t perhaps tie together entirely into a tapestry by the end it’s still a very attractive design that hangs together well enough to, I dunno, keep you warm with the character scarf? That metaphor got away from me a bit. I like it a lot, is what I’m getting at.

It won’t win any awards for overall originality of the plot, for sure – in particular there’s a twist that’s so obvious from the way a particular scene is shot that it might as well be written on your ticket, but overall this is a really satisfyingly dense, chewy, premium film nougat that mixes brilliant character work with genre fireworks better than any other film I’ve seen this year. It is one of the most enjoyable films of the year – not perhaps, in the artsy, pushing the boundaries of cinema sense, but in terms of being a really fun way to spend a couple of hours, and that’s more than enough for me.