Steve McQueen is the second film-maker this year whose inadequacy to handle the larger narrative canvas of a conventional Hollywood genre is conspicuous, first being Damien Chazelle. The crucial supporting characters feel under-written and are reduced to a caricature in both the films, Widows and First Man. McQueen has written and directed three independent films that are frequently mentioned in the list of the greatest films of the century, it’s rather an awkward departure on his part to adapt the British series ‘Widows’ in collaboration with Gillian Flynn(author and screenwriter of ‘Gone Girl‘).
The transition of McQueen from the uncompromising, unsparing and character-driven film-maker of Indie films to directing a big budget, multi-starrer heist film is muddled with the most shoddy twist in years; the writing is all over the place and shows his ineptitude in balancing the hybrid genre of drama-heist served with the dash of politics. The film is stuffed with more characters, subplots and the issues than the narrative can handle, and the editing provides no breathing room to catch up with the emotional state of the characters.
‘Widows’ is crammed with the towering ideas and a lot of talent on and off screen. The talent involves artists from different sphere of Hollywood who has mastered their crafts. The narrative of the film is sharply structured to keep the audience at the edge of the seat, but it aggressively corrodes the drama that comes off as incoherent and ill-conceived. McQueen does pull off the drama in the film with elan. His mastery on the camera-work and writing are evident when the film is handling heist. It’s quite entertaining and mildly thrilling, and at times, unnerving too, until the twist. The film completely loses its narrative steam and grip on the story midway through, and post that it never recovers from the setback.
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The writing tries to address multiple issues ranging from racial, sexual, personal and political prejudices to the objectification and violence against women, but McQueen fails at neatly tying them which makes the end feel convenient after such unnerving mad rush in the lives of the characters rather than well earned.
‘Widows’ opens with a passionate kiss between Harry Rawlins (played by Liam Neeson) and his wife Veronica (played by Viola Davis). The sensual and intimate moment that packs heat is abruptly cut to Harry’s heist that goes awry, blowing up Harry and his partners Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Florek (Jon Bernthal), and Jimmy (Coburn Goss) in a van. The crime boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) threatens Veronica to pay back the money Harry stole from him – after which she is visited by Jamal’s right-hand cynical and often brutal, Jatemme Manning (Daniel Kaluuya), who enjoys the execution part of his job way too much.
Veronica devises an idea to gather all the accomplices’ widows, form a Veronica’s four, and execute the next heist plan detailed in Harry’s notebook. Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) is a victim of domestic violence who is manipulated by her despotic mother to sign up for an escort service. Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) owns a clothing store who is blamed for her husband’s death. They unite out of an urgent fear to save themselves, for survival, for self-respect, to prove themselves, fight against the prejudices. There is a raw sense of purpose that drives these women rather than just money.
They all come together circumnavigating and turned on its head the stereotypes. Well, ironically the film is rigged with stereotypical dialogues like ‘If something goes wrong, you’re on your own’. With such dialogues, you cannot expect the audience to take you seriously. Furthermore, the elaborate flashback scene of Veronica’s son doesn’t fit organically in the structure, rather it hampers the narration and forces the audience to warm up to Veronica.
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Viola Davis is in complete control of her character. She hits in your gut with her mellowed look concealing her vulnerability and emotional turmoil. But it is Debicki whose understated performance as a psychologically fragile woman trapped in the abusive conditions make you sympathise with her. Rest of the cast does not have enough meat to their characters to even comment on their performances.
Widows (2018) is an unsatisfying drama-thriller in spite of talented artists across the board. It suffers from the incoherent narrative that addresses several issues than what it could handle at the modest running length of 128 minutes. The only saving grace is the fiery performances of Viola and nuanced portrayal of a damsel in distress played by Debicki.