McQueen wanted to direct a popular Hollywood caper and he has succeeded. WIDOWS is not an original. It is based on a British television crime drama (broadcast in 1983 and 1985) written by Lynda La Plant. McQueen and Gillian Flynn adapted it, using an ensemble cast headed by Viola Davis. In her TV series, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, Davis flipped the typical television series bible by throwing off her wig and looking dramatically unattractive without makeup and key lighting. Her character loved to drink and often in her private life had crying tantrums. Davis praised her TV network and said, “The fact that they cast a woman who’s dark-skinned and 50, who’s my size, my everything, taking off a wig in an episode, doing all of those things.” McQueen doesn’t bother with setting up WIDOWS. He opens on Veronica (Davis) and her husband Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) in their all white bedroom and bedding which intentionally highlights Davis’s dark skin. Harry adores his wife and they look very happy. Stylish Veronica appears to be a nicely kept wife. Harry is a 30-year veteran of high-stakes crime and his latest caper ignites a world of pain for Veronica.
Harry and his crew have just stolen two million dollars from strong-arm gang boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who is also running for office. Manning needed that money but, just as Harry’s crew is back at their warehouse after the robbery, the police show up in force and the van with the money and the entire crew are blown up. The death of the crew has devastating consequences for their significant others. Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), married to Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), loses what she thought was her paid-for quinceañera dress shop. Alice’s (Elizabeth Debicki) boyfriend Florek (Jon Bernthal) was violent towards her and left her with no money and she is now forced to stay with her domineering mother Agnieska (Jacki Weaver), who is already promoting Alice as an escort. The last woman left alone by the deaths is Amanda (Carrie Coon). She is left caring for her four-month-old son.
Manning’s lieutenant enforcer is his son Jatemme Manning (Daniel Kaluuya). McQueen just doesn’t suggest sadism in Jatemme. He lets us know immediately how dangerous this man is.
This may be a stylish caper movie, but when Jamal confronts a man for some information, he deals with him in an excoriating fashion. It goes on and on. I watched it through my fingers. Veronica’s high life is richly rewarded by Harry’s work. Harry had a driver (Charlie Weber, who happens to be Davis’s long-time co-star on her series), who has willingly stayed to help Veronica. When Veronica sets up a meeting with the wives of Harry’s crew, Amanda declines, so Belle (Cynthia Erivo), a hairdresser, is enlisted to be the crew’s driver. Luckily for Veronica, Harry left her all the plans to his next heist. She has only one course of action – the ladies must become criminals and do the job exactly as Harry laid out in the plans.
Manning’s opponent is a 3rd generation of Chicago politics, Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). Ruled over by his crusty father, Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall), to continue the dynastic history of the Mulligan family. But Tom is conflicted. He hates the machine grinding. McQueen doesn’t conform completely to the Hollywood crime-thriller scenario. His distinctive style is evident. The twists are clever and not foreshadowed. And, as an aside comment, when one character gets killed, the audience cheered. They were that invested.
Farrell and Duvall are fantastic. Farrell really shows his vulnerability and frustration and Duvall – the older he gets the more he spits and gruffs out dialogue. He has left the patriarchal posturing and really chews up the scenery. His scenes are some of the best-delivered dialogue.
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