At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Widows “2018”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Widows “2018”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Neo-Noir Heist Thriller/Stars: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Garret Dillahunt, Lukas Haas, Matt Walsh, Kevin J. O’Connor, Jon Michael Hill, Coburn Goss/Runtime: 129 minutes

If you ever wanted a unique little cinematic exercise to engage in on a rainy day then, despite not having a whole lot of similarities to each other, you should take a few hours to compare and contrast a pair of distinct slices of cinema that managed to throw some distinct creative shades into the iconic genre of movie magic that is the heist genre. Those aforementioned slices of cinema incidentally being the 2018 films The Old Man and the Gun and, the film I am reviewing today, Widows. Indeed, The Old Man and the Gun is one that manages to push to the side any intricate plotting and even the action of quite a few thefts and is content to instead view its genuinely charming “antagonist” as a gentlemanly thief who “kindly” borrows various financial places of their money on long term loan. Widows however is one that does get into a fair bit of the intricacies that come with figuring out the various details for a heist, but the idea that it is a group of women behind it all is what ultimately might be enough to distinguish this slice of cinema for certain viewers. With that said though, it should be noted that if you actually take the time to sit down and watch this that you will discover that Widows is operating with a heck of a lot more than just a heist in its back pocket. Indeed, here is a slice of cinema that has all kinds of linked sub arcs that deal with everything from girl power to the political realm in Chicago, strained bonds between family members, racial imbalances and even, briefly yet powerfully, the impact a cop shooting a young and not armed African American can have. Suffice it to say that is a significant amount to try and insert into a slice of cinema that seems mostly focused on trying to get cash out of one location and into the hands of some people who, arguably, need a whole lot more than the proverbial “rightful owner”. Yet thankfully we see that dynamic co-screenwriting duo Steve McQueen (who also was at the helm for this one) as well as the author of the terrific mystery-thriller Gone Girl, one Gillian Flynn, are able to weave a path through this maze that is delightfully easy to follow. As a result, we see that they along with fantastic work on both sides of the camera, are able to give us a slice of cinema that has a cast for the ages, a truly riveting narrative, some twists and turns that are genuinely well-played, and is able to operate as both a thrilling crime caper and a nuanced character analysis respectively. Sure, this slice of cinema may have a few missteps located throughout, but when viewing this slice of cinema as a complete package trust me when I say that those missteps are fairly easy to look the other way on.

The plot is as follows: A loose adaptation of the same named British television show that aired in both 1983 and 1985 respectively, the slice of cinema that is Widows gets underway with a sequence that in most other slices of cinema like this would be the end of the story. That being that we witness as a highly skilled and noteworthy member of the bank robber community by the name of Harry Rawlings, alongside his team consisting of Florek, Carlos, and Jimmy respectively, have just pulled off a fairly huge job that has managed to net them a solid 2 million dollars to divide up. Unfortunately, just when it looks like they are in the clear we see things quickly go south on them courtesy of not only the police managing to block them in at their hideout, but in the shootout that ensues their van is blown up with all of the men inside. To that end, we are quickly introduced to the women that these men have left behind in the realm of the living including the ruthless Veronica, the timid Alice, the fierce Linda, and the reclusive Amanda respectively. Yet despite never having anything to do with their late husbands’ world and/or business arrangements, we see that this is very quickly about to change. This is because, as we soon learn, the individual that the men robbed during the final caper was none other than Jamal Manning. A guy who may have ties to organized crime, his psychopathic and sadistic brother/enforcer Jatemme included, but here lately is currently in the running for the position of Alderman in the 18th Ward of Chicago yet nevertheless is still nevertheless not someone to be trifled with. Unfortunately, we see that, due to all the cash being destroyed, Jamal finds Veronica and makes it clear that she owes him especially because he needs the funds to hopefully get an edge on position front runner Jack Mulligan whose family ties, especially those of power broker father Tom’s, run deeper in the city than Jamal’s ever could. However, with neither the clock nor her own pocketbook on her side, we soon see that for Veronica her only shot at possibly escaping this nightmare is a notebook left by Harry that possess the intricate details for where the crew planned to hit next. To that end, we see that Veronica clinically reaches out to both Alice and Linda to aid her in this endeavor and together it will up to these women to both come together and figure out where this target is, but also learn to do what their husbands did so well so they can pay what is owed and thereby regain control of their lives once and for all.

Now right off the bat it should be noted that the work done behind the camera is nothing short of terrific. This starts with the fact that McQueen does a wonderful job of giving this slice of cinema a tone that is both cheeky yet also grim which as a result leaves you completely on edge throughout. Along with that we see that this slice of cinema does a wonderful job of giving us a truly intriguing plot that manages to also transform the swift-tempo pathos on display into a fairly obvious metaphor for economic conflict, but in all fairness, nuance doesn’t always have to be a part of this distinct subgenre. Be that as it may be, it is a pure joy to see our female gang of thieves put their scheme together through a field trip to the shooting range, working their feminine charms on a mark, or in acquiring a getaway car all while bickering at each other the whole time. Suffice it to say that they may not always see eye to eye on everything, but they do manage to conjure up a chemistry with each other that is truly engaging from beginning to end. Now there is so much to really praise about this slice of cinema that it makes some of the goofier points in this film a lot easier to look the other way on like Alice convincing someone to buy the weapons for her or certain reveals that you should be able to see coming from at least a mile away with ease. On top of that some of the more brisque one-liners in this don’t really seem like they’re being spoken in a gritty crime saga, but instead transported over from a cheesy soap opera and just dropped at key points. Yet with how skilled as a film helmer McQueen is, these minor little hiccups don’t really drag the film down all that much in the grand scheme of things. Indeed, whilst operating alongside his frequent collaborator Sean Bobbit, we see that McQueen is able to provide each scene with a lively realism complete with a consistent franticness provided by yet another top-notch musical accompaniment from noted composer Hans Zimmer. Indeed, at the end of the day, this slice of cinema works on the level it does due to how its creative team behind the camera is able to balance its engaging material with material of actual substance. No, it might not get to the level that McQueen’s prior cinematic efforts managed to pull off, but this is still a well-crafted slice of cinema all the same.

Of course, the other big factor that plays a significant part in this slice of cinema turns out to would be the truly stacked and skilled cast that has been assembled in front of the camera. Indeed, this is a rare slice of cinema in that regard because, unlike a lot of other films out there, there really truly is not a single weak link in this cast as each and every person involved has managed to bring their absolute A-game to this project. This starts with Viola Davis as Veronica and honestly, she is nothing short of incredible. Indeed, Davis has always been one actress who has brought a ferocity to every role she has ever played, and she definitely brings that here as well make no mistake, but she also manages to bring to this role a drive and hidden away sense of grief that may cause her character to butt heads with nearly everyone else in this movie at least once, but also sees her become a truly intriguing lead to follow throughout this.  We also get wonderful work in this from Elizabeth Debicki who, in the role of Alice, does a great job at giving us a young woman who through this heist starts to slowly but surely take control of her own life after having it all but dominated by both her husband (played brilliantly by the always great Jon Bernthal) and her mother (a wonderfully despicable Jacki Weaver). We also get terrific work here from Michelle Rodriguez (who actually manages to leave the role of Letty from the Fast and Furious films in the rear view mirror for a while), Cynthia Ervio, Carrie Coon (even if her role is more limited for reasons I won’t get into here), Colin Farrell (even if he needs to get a better accent teacher at points), the always enjoyable screen legend Robert Duvall who does great with his 30-40 minutes of screentime including an exchange between him and Farrell that is quite perversely comedic, Liam Neeson despite not really being able to go into particulars about his role here, terrific character actor Garret Dillahunt, and Brian Tyree Henry who, since his time on the TV show Atlanta, really has become one of my favorite actors to see appear in films from Godzilla v. Kong to Bullet Train due to always being an engaging screen presence. Yet there is also one other performance that I would like to take some time to focus on here and that would be Daniel Kaluuya in the role of Jatemme Manning. Indeed, Kaluuya might not have the most screentime in this movie, but he still manages to make every single minute he’s given count as one of the most chilling psychopaths in 2010s cinema period. I mean every single time he appears on screen not only is Kaluuya absolutely magnetic, but he also leaves you on the edge of your seat in fear of just what he is about to do next and to whom is he going to do it to. Suffice it to say that every single performer in this not only knew what was being asked of them but manages to bring their absolute best to this slice of cinema and then some.

All in all if there is one thing that I have always found that manages to surprise the heck out of me fairly consistently dear reader it’s when my fellow critics are heap praise on a slice of cinema that genuinely deserves it….only for that movie to then not catch on with audiences the way that it really should have. The reason I bring that up dear reader is because Widows “2018” is most assuredly a tragically fantastic example of this cinematic concept in action. Sure, there are some issues scattered throughout this, but at the same time the work done behind the camera is top-notch and highly skilled and the work being done in front of the camera by an extremely well-chosen and legitimately gifted cast of performers, led by a riveting and downright ferociously magnetic Viola Davis, is truly fantastic no matter how big or small their role in the grand scheme of things may be. Suffice it to say that if you want to see an entry in the heist subgenre that actually manages to be not what you may be expecting as well as incorporate a surprising degree of substance into the mix then you should definitely give this slice of cinema a shot. Trust me when I say that you most assuredly will not regret it. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Widows “2018” a solid 4 out of 5.