Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Widows

By sati (harlequinade) Tuesday, November 20, 2018 , , , , , , ,

The more Steve McQueen's movies I watch the more I realize the only film of his I truly liked was Shame. McQueen's has this jarring style which was so evident to me in 12 Years a Slave - in spite of having protagonists in his films he focuses on supporting characters too often and in the result his films completely lose focus. In the end we know a little about all of the characters but we lose sight of out protagonists for long periods of time which is detrimental to the film.

This is again very evident in Widows, McQueen's new - and the worst - movie. The film's jarring structure is annoying from the start but for long periods of time it focuses on the characters who really aren't interesting and it isn't necessary for us to watch them in so many scenes. I am mostly talking about the subplot with politician and his father. Not only is it a waste of time but Robert Duvall's acting is so over top it brings the film down even more.
I also expected better from Flynn. Farrell's assistant exists to be a punching bag for misogynistic characters and there is no pay off here. The film doesn't focus on the women as much as you would expect and the social commentary and politics take the lead. Good God, there is even a comment on police brutality in an entirely unnecessary flashback scene. At least Flynn doesn't pander too much to men like she did with the scripts for her recent adaptations - stripping Amy of what made her a bit sympathetic in Gone Girl and giving inept detective the scene where mystery is solved in Sharp Objects. Do better, Gillian.

Then there are ham-fisted attempts at social commentary, like much praised (really?) shot where Farrell's character (I saw this few days ago and I don't remember his name) and his assistant get in the car and have a conversation. Instead of focusing on them we see the outside of the car illustrating the change in the surroundings - from poor to rich where Farrell's character lives. OK, cool, but we didn't really need to see this scene to get that point. And then there is the most jarring moment where we don't even jump to supporting characters but borderline extra and watch a sermon he is giving. There's also a rap scene....who the hell is this movie for? It's all so clumsy.
Then there are moments that are quite indefensible. There's completely pointless moment with HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILERS Rodriguez's character making out with some guy. I thought maybe she steals something form him, manipulates him, but nothing happens. But the worst offender is the scratching at the door scene. I thought it was just Veronica realizing her husband had an affair but now I'm reading people interpreted this as she KNEW he was alive and behind that door? And we are supposed to believe she would maintain her cool enough NOT to open the door just so she could frame him later? And don't get me started on the numbers being upside down moment during the heist. END OF SPOILERS

This is what happens when you send a man to do a woman's job. In the hands of female director this would never end up like this. This could have been focused thriller led by women and focusing on women but it's not. Not that any of this matters in the end- the film is a failure in American box office. The audience over there has been putting films like Bohemian Rhapsody and Crimes of Grindewald at #1 and they are clearly not interested in supporting films that matter. Because as riddled with problems as Widows is, its failure is a disaster for female-led movies.
Hans Zimmer provides one melody and calls it a score, but the soundtrack selection is excellent. The cinematography has some good moments but because of weird decisions like the shot mentioned above it's not something I would praise. The editing is fine.

What saves the movie are the actors - everyone other than Duvall is doing very well. Kaluuya is getting Oscar buzz for his work here and as entertaining as he is, it's unjustified. Kaluuya is intense but very one-note and because he is so dead-eyed - he just is - is it really difficult for him to pull this character off? No, it isn't. I actually found Brian Tyree Henry's character to be more menacing. In the end though none of them is fleshed out and the movie wastes way too much time on them.
The husbands of the titular widows understandably don't have much to do (yet in his short screentime Jon Bernthal's character manages to be a major asshole) with the exception of Liam Neeson who is well cast and makes some effort - whatever it was he was doing during funeral flashback. Garret Dillahunt and Kevin J. O'Connor deliver best work on the male actors front, playing actual good guys in the film filled with absolutely awful men. The actresses are all wonderful and it's a shame the film didn't focus on them more. Cynthia Erivo and Michelle Rodriguez are both excellent in spite of the film not giving them that much to do and Jackie Weaver and Carrie Coon are great in their brief screen time.

Viola Davis as always proves she is incredible and her strength shines throughout the film. Davis should have been given more but she still gives it her all and delivers amazing performance. She is accompanied by Olivia, adorable dog who also starred in Game Night, and they are probably the fiercest duo of the year. Olivia outacts half of the people in this movie.
But the film belongs to someone else. Elizabeth Debicki effortlessly steals the show and single-handedly makes the film worth seeing. She has been wonderful in every single role I saw her in and hopefully Widows is going to be her big break and we will see her more often.

Debicki is  6' 2¾" and yet appears so fragile and innocent. Her character is so wonderful to watch because she is made out of contradictions - Alice is abused both by her husband and her mother but somehow she never loses her dignity or her self-worth. But she still makes mistakes and in the beginning becomes an escort - I was cringing every time Lucas Haas' slimy character put his hands on her.
Yet Alice gradually takes control of her life and the moments she stands up for herself are wonderful to witness. The film's greatest scene is focused on what the film should be focused on so much more - women and the relationship between them. Veronica needs help and seeks shelter over at Alice and promptly chastises her for sleeping with some man, barely month after her husband's death. What follows is an argument and a moment where they both slap the shit out of each other but the scene ends with them hugging.

It truly is a shame that the movie gave us so few moments like this and failed even in its needlessly ambiguous ending. Much like a lot of McQueen's work it's being different for the sake of being different. With his misguided efforts McQueen fails the cast and in the end fails the audience too. Hopefully his failure will not completely sink this movie and the film still receives numerous nominations for both Davis and especially Debicki
64/100 (USA, 2018, 129 min)
Plot: Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
Director: Steve McQueen Writers: Gillian Flynn (screenplay by), Steve McQueen
Stars: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki

14 comments:

  1. Wonderful review! I responded more positively to the film, though. Loved it. I actually wanted more of *everyone* in the film. I could've watched a three-hour version.

    And I want Debicki to get nominated for an Oscar so badly. Davis, too. Glad you liked their performances.

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    1. I think the abysmal box office will lead to neither of them getting in but I really hope somehow Debicki manages to land a nomination

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  2. I agree, it was a mess and it was McQueen's worst movie. Also with you on Debicki, she is amazing. Personally, I liked Kaluuya and I think he was convincing, but it was a bit of a one trick pony, like you said. His ending was also surprisingly abrupt.

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    1. That ending was so strange. I really wish at least we saw Alice's reaction there.

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  3. Fantastic review. I really thought Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki really rocked it here. They gave it their all.

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  4. Nice review! But I have to admit, I kind of had no interest in seeing this. The promos weren't that strong, and what I did see wasn't that intriguing. It's interesting to see the mixed reaction to this though, especially Oscar hype. When it gets closer to award show season and if it has a chance of being nominated, I might try. I love Kaluuya, so it's a shame if he isn't given that much to do/does much.

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    1. If you love Kaluuya you should check it out, he is very good. But with the focus split on so many characters no one really gets enough screen time

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  5. Bummer you didn't like it sati, though I'll still be going to check it out. It sounds interesting though it'll be cool to have your thoughts in mind while watching. It just came out here today

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  6. Elizabeth Debicki was fantastic but I wish they had trimmed some of the extraneous stuff to concentrate on her and the other women's relationships more. And as much as I usually like Kaluuya the scene where Brian Tyree Henry's character had Olivia and was telling Veronica basically how much he owned her life now was probably the most tense in the movie. Menacing is a great word!

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    1. Yes! There was way too little focus on the titular characters here! The film would be much better if there was.

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  7. Going to see it with my mom tomorrow, I hope it's good. I haven't been to the movies after the film festival, and I SAW SO MANY SAD MOVIES that I actually was a bit sad for a while.

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    1. This one isn't very sad, it's more badass :D Viola is always amazing to watch

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