Thursday, December 27, 2018

Widows: A Review


Widows is an adaptation of a 1983 BBC miniseries. Updated and changed to Chicago, the film failed at the box office despite lavish praise and positive coverage. I think its failure is due more to false marketing: sold as an action/heist film, Widows is a sprawling story or stories that soon start dragging to a climax that isn't.

Widows tells the story of three wives to a criminal gang. There's posh Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis), married to Harry (Liam Neeson). There's more gritty Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), involved with Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). We have Polish Alitzia or Alice (Elizabeth Debecki), who stays with abusive Florek (Jon Bernthal). Finally there's Amanda (Carrie Coon), who is with Jimmy (Coburn Goss).

The men are in a criminal gang, master thieves who steal vast fortunes. What the wives know and how much they know is up for debate, as the film seems to make them somewhat aware of shady dealings but not much into detail. The latest heist goes wrong and the men are killed.

Enter Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry). He's running for Alderman of the 18th Ward against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), scion of the current Alderman Tom (Robert Duvall). Thanks to some redistricting the Ward is now a predominantly black area, giving the white Mulligans their first real challenge to their longtime political dominance. Jamal's money was the one stolen, and now he puts the squeeze on the Widow Rawlings to come up with $2 million by the end of the month or else.

That 'else' comes in the form of Jamal's brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya), a cold-blooded murderer with no conscience. With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, Veronica finds help thanks to Henry's notebook, which has his plans for his final unmade heist. That heist will net them $5 million, more than enough to cover the debt and have some left over.

Image result for widows movieVeronica decides to recruit two of the other widows, with Amanda initially not making contact and then kept out due to being a new mother. The other widows, with nothing to lose, reluctantly agree.

Alice soon whores herself out with pressure from her mother Agnieszka (Jacki Weaver), and finds a good man in David (Lucas Haas), who soon wants her to be exclusive. Linda finds the pressure of being a mother and criminal hard, but finds help with Belle (Cynthia Erivo), a babysitter whom they recruit to be the driver after the original driver, Veronica's chauffeur Bash (Garrett Dillahunt) is killed by Jatemme and his crew.

The film then gives us a wild twist involving Henry, more planning and the heist, which while not without a few hiccups ends well for our widows (though not so well for Jatemme). The women split up, and things turn out relatively well: Linda gets her bridal/quinceañera shop back, Alice finds respectability and a new life, and Veronica takes her money to fund a library with the caveat that it be named after her son Marcus, victim of a police shooting.

Widows, as I stated, I think was sold as a female empowerment film where women take on a criminal heist. If it was indeed marketed as a straightforward action film, a grittier Ocean's 8, it failed.

It failed for a variety of reasons. For one, the myriad of stories spun all over the place. The most developed story was that of Alice, longing for love and respectability but struggling to accept the terms David presented her: part 'be my mistress' part 'you're only my mistress'. The women never became cohesive as a unit, more of a mishmash of types.

It failed because the variety of stories it was telling similarly didn't seem to fit into a cohesive whole. You had the 'political corruption' story and the 'women fighting back' story. I know both were for one overall story but somehow it felt I was watching two films spliced together that were more concurrent than united.

Image result for widows movie
It failed because some of the performances were comically bad. At the top of the list is Kaluuya as Jatemme, who was meant to be threatening and menacing but to be honest went overboard as the 'evil' bit. At times I was laughing when he was supposed to be 'menacing'. Same goes for both Duvall and Farrell who either chewed up the scenery in the 'we're all racists' bit or the 'I'm not sure whether I'm really evil or just burdened by family legacy' bit respectively.

It failed because the twists are sometimes laughable. I'm not mentioning the big twist involving Neeson, but the heist being almost foiled by Jamette throwing a monkey wrench into it had me laughing.

Finally, it failed because cowriter/director Steve McQueen (cowritten by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn) sometimes lays things thick with symbolism. Marcus, Veronica and Henry's son, is shot by police in front of Obama posters.  The shooting seems rather out of place to the story already, but having this racially-motivated shooting in front of posters for the first black President seems to indulge itself with irony.

As a side note, this is the second straight film I've seen where a young black man is shot by white police officers after The Hate U Give. It was just a wild coincidence, I figure.

Worse, I found Widows boring. I figure McQueen was going for a very sparse, quiet film. There are many scenes that are either silent or hushed (save for when Duvall or Farrell are screaming up a storm). However, for a film that is supposed to culminate in a big heist, the heist itself is rather dull. Truth be told I was losing interest by the midpoint and no interest in seeing how it all played out.

I get the sense that many praised and continue to praise Widows for something that I didn't see. That is their right. I am exercising my right to not like a film I found slow, dull and pretty much uninteresting.


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