Widows

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Widows   
 

When Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) and his crew are killed in an explosion mid-heist, his wife Veronica (Viola Davis) is left with nothing but a debt to a notorious criminal, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), currently running for Chicago political office.  Veronica has a bold idea, turning to the other wives who lost their husbands, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), to carry out the aborted heist in "Widows."

Laura:
As a young teen, cowriter/director Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave") was enamored of the British television series 'Widows.'  Unfortunately, he's chosen to adapt it with "Gone Girl's" Gillian Flynn, ultimately sacrificing character on the altar of the plot twist.  The narrative is so overstuffed, it is difficult to figure out how some characters fit into the picture.  The whole project feels like it would have been better served as a television mini-series, given room to breath.

The first image we see is a close up of Veronica and Harry hungrily kissing against white pillows. This is a well worn marriage that still packs heat and the abrupt cuts to Harry's heist going down in a hail of S.W.A.T. bullets and a fiery explosion delivers the gut punch we can imagine Veronica feels upon hearing the news.

She's ensconced in a sleek modern penthouse, its predominant color white like her dog, Olivia. It's quite a contrast to the introductions of Linda, being blamed for the death of her husband by her mother-in-law in a home crammed with religious artifacts, and Alice, seen that morning being told to cover a black eye with makeup by the husband, Florek (Jon Bernthal), who gave it to her.  Of these three women, the only we'll get to know is Alice, her character graced with enough psychological underpinning to allow Debicki to make something of it.  Hers is the standout performance, a woman groomed to be a sexual object by her mother (Jacki Weaver) who finds her self worth in the midst of complying.

As Veronica's meeting the other two women in a steam room to make her proposition, machinations surrounding the election of the 18th Ward's alderman are kicking into high gear. Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall) has held power for decades, believes his son Jack (Colin Farrell) is his entitled heir and is furious that a black man would challenge him in the black neighborhood he controls with a female minority business initiative, tasking Jack to put a end to it.  What Tom doesn't know is that his son has other plans.  With Jamal and his sociopathic brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) bearing down on Veronica, she's making moves that will cross party lines, aided by the notebook Harry left behind.

McQueen employs a jarring flashback structure, filling in details of Veronica and Harry's marriage with small jolts as his plot moves forward.  Alice, who's been tasked with procuring a van and weapons, instead moves forward, becoming a high priced escort, falling in with a wealthy businessman (Lukas Haas) who makes her feel good in the moment, but offers no commitment.  Linda, the least developed character, is charged with determining the location of Harry's blueprint.  In order to meet with an architect, she hires an online babysitter, Belle (Cynthia Erivo), who, incredibly becomes the trio's getaway driver.  Erivo may carve out a noteworthy character, but it feels like she's parachuted in from left field. Likewise Carrie Coon's Amanda, a character whose connection to the plot is major, but whose introduction to the action is peripheral.  Veronica and Harry's driver, Bash (Garret Dillahunt), does not get what he deserves.  'Veep's' Matt Walsh is a security company employee with an important piece of information.

Viola Davis is a great actress but while she is compelling in the role, it is difficult to warm up to Veronica.  She and Neeson shower sparks in a very sexy pairing.  It is Debicki who wins our sympathy, a beauty and an innocent facing an even harsher reality than her rough and tumble marriage.  This little girl lost may not be the smartest, but once she pulls up her bootstraps with the only means available, she flourishes, her joy in achieving Veronica's goals by clumsily employing her feminine wiles a real highlight.  Farrell is also solid as the man playing two ends against the middle.  One can imagine an entirely separate film from Jack's point of view.  Kaluuya is evil personified, at one point torturing a paraplegic with quick jabs of a knife.  Chicago locations highlight its haves and have-nots, cinematographer Sean Bobbit favoring cool hues.  The film is edited with no spare room to breathe.

But that plot twist is so ludicrous it sinks the whole film, belying everything McQueen took pains to construct.  "Widows" is a fast paced political corruption/heist hybrid whose theme of women taking control of an environment where they have been undervalued and exploited by men is itself undervalued in service to a cheap, cliched thrill.

Grade:  C+

Robin:
Robin did not see this film.
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