Our guest writer/correspondence John H Foote writes from TIFF18, about Widows, starring Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya and Robert Duvall.
Directed by Academy Award winner Steve McQueen, the guiding force behind the Oscar-winning Best Picture ’12 Years a Slave’ (2013), this high octane caper film is a twist on both heist pictures, and in its own way noir. Dark, nasty, twisting, these are not the sort of people you care to encounter in life, you would just never be able to tell when they would put a bullet in your head, or back, which is more likely. As with all McQueen’s work, this is radically different from anything he has done previous, and like his other work is well cast with a terrific group of some of the best actors in movies.
It opens with a stunning juxtaposition as we are introduced to the widows, and at the same time see the botched robbery that cost each of them their husband or partner. Veronica (Viola Davis) deeply mourns the loss of her husband because this is the second major loss in her life, having lost their teenage son a few years before. When a local drug dealer visits her after her husband’s funeral and intimidates her, threatens her to pay back the two million dollars he stole from him which is assumed gone up in smoke in the robbery, she is terrified because she knows this man means business.
The mobster’s hitman is a dangerous psychotic, who like big brother likes to intimidate and play games before he kills. He is portrayed with alarming intensity by last years breakout star from ‘Get Out’ (2017) Daniel Kaluuya, who is astonishing in a part light years away from his work last year. His baleful stare is genuinely frightening, and it is quickly made apparent he is lethal when he turns up people are going to die. Like a dangerous cat he likes to play with his prey before killing it, but make no mistake, they are going to die.
Veronica, out of desperation rounds up two of the other widows and hatches a scheme to get the money she needs and maybe take care of them as well. Her husband, Rawlins (Liam Neeson) wrote down all of his jobs in a journal which she is now in possession of. She believes with the right group, trained properly, they can pull off a heist and bring them five million dollars. What they do not realize is that the person they are going to hit is at the very top of food chain, and equally dangerous.
With her crew, Veronica prepares for the robbery, constantly on the edge, knowing one mistake could bring them down. Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Ervin and Elizabeth Debicki are exceptional as her partners in crime, each given a task, each with different ways of getting down what needs to be done. The plot just keeps twisting and there are a couple of jaw-dropping twists I did not see coming….at all. One will gut Veronica, stun her with the betrayal of her life. The heist goes almost as planned, but the complications that do creep up are major events that cannot be ignored. The girls are brought to the edge of ruin.
Davis is outstanding at the head of this cast, giving a commanding performance of a desperate woman somehow staying in control for the sole reason she must! Given thirty days to make right the theft of the money, she has no choice but to hold things together. Utterly fearless when pushed, the role is something very different for her. As her husband, Liam Neeson is never quite what he seems, the sort of guy who could love her for twenty years and then disappear in a puff of smoke. It is a nice reminder of his enormous gifts as an actor and builds hope the either Scorsese or Spielberg make that George Washington biography with him. Colin Farrell does well with his politician in over his head, wanting out, but knowing he must keep his father’s legacy intact. Robert Duvall is ferocious as Farrell’s corrupt father, the angry old man who must leave politics but pulls the strings behind his son, or at least thinks he does.
Where the film soars is in showing the cost of a life, what you are willing to do, and tasks if you are prepared to live with those choices? McQueen keeps the film hurtling along at a brisk pace, but his actors never fail him, digging deep into their characters. Davis could receive Oscar consideration for Best Actress, and Kaluuya should be an absolute front-runner for Best Supporting Actor, he was terrifying.
‘Widows’ promises to be an audience favourite.
The Cinemawala Rating: 4/5
John H. Foote is among the best-known film critics in Canada and has been active as a critic for thirty years.
His career began as co-host, co-producer of the popular movie talk and review program Reel to Real. He left the show after ten years for his first love, print criticism, he longed to write about movies. For two years he wrote for Toronto Life and Fashion Magazine, his work quote in the LA and New York Times, as well as major papers across North America. He was offered a position writing for the internet and has since written for incontention.com, thewrap.com, screenrant.com, awardscircuit.com and most recently thecinemaholic.com. In May 2018 he started his own site Footeandfriendsonfilm.com, which has enjoyed great success its first few months.
Foote was also involved in film education teaching film history and film genre at Trebas Institute before leaving to be Dean of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history and continued his work as a critic.
Foote has written two books, “Clint Eastwood: Evolution of a Filmmaker”, and “Spielberg: American Film Visionary” (due in 2019). His third, “American Cinema in the Seventies” is due for release in 2020.
Through his career, he has interviewed everyone in the business except Jack Nicholson!