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'Widows': A struggle for survival in realistic, funereal heist thriller

News Desk

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, December 7, 2018  /  06:33 pm

Assembling 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, Gone Girl screenwriter Gillian Flynn, a Lynda La Plante crime novel and some of Hollywood’s best actors results in Widows. It is a heist film that moves at a pensive pace, bathed in a mournful mood, but genuinely thrilling and surprisingly funny at times.

Widows starts with Veronica (Viola Davis) and her husband Harry (Liam Neeson) vigorously making out. What follows next is a fast-paced alternation between a turbulent chase in a getaway van and calm shots establishing four women’s relationships with their thief husbands. The opening ends with the van blowing up, killing Harry and his thieving cronies.

Veronica is suddenly a widow, left only with her pet dog Olivia in their posh penthouse. While trying to cope with her husband’s death, a thug-turned-politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) demands she repay her husband’s hefty debt within a month – or Jamal’s killer brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) will pay her a visit. Later on, Veronica finds her husband’s planned heist could yield more than twice the amount owed. Dread and desperation drive her to execute the plan, despite having zero experience in committing crimes.

She scouts her accomplices – the widows of her husband’s partners in crime. Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) was abused by her husband Florek (Jon Bernthal) and is now tormented by her despotic mother (Jacki Weaver). Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) lost her boutique thanks to her compulsive gambler of a husband Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). The fourth widow, Amanda (Carrie Coon), opts out of the team, with Linda’s occasional babysitter Belle (Cynthia Erivo) replacing her. The three join Veronica in the interest of revenge, self-respect and money.

Widows is ambitious with its star-studded cast, but skillfully utilizes each member. Davis’ prevalent presence reigns over every scene she is in. Rodriguez finally plays a not-so-callous character, and she does it well. Debicki is probably at her best here, and Erivo surprisingly can stand even against Davis. Kaluuya makes a downright scary psycho and brings terror even to the scenes where he simply appears. However, Farrell’s accent is unconvincing and Weaver might need to tone it down a bit.

Though a heist movie at heart, Widows incorporates a political subplot in which Manning runs for council against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). McQueen touches plenty on the issue of race in the subplot. The African-American Manning tries to reap votes from the redrawn ward borders, which contain black neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the Irish-American Mulligan struggles against the power of his ex-ward boss father (Robert Duvall), who is a closeted racist.

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The subplot also gives birth to the film’s most stunning shot – Mulligan’s furious discussion about power playing out in the background, invisible, while the camera is fixed outside of his limo, capturing 2008 Chicago neighborhoods, from run-downs to mansions. Though one thing needs to be mentioned, every single shot in the film is gorgeous.

McQueen and Flynn seemingly aim for a full-course buffet of social commentary in Widows. Apart from racism, the two topics brutally emphasized are murder and gun violence, which were, and still are, two of Chicago’s heaviest real-life issues. The hybrid of gun violence and racism, police brutality, is also brought up in the haunting murder scene of Veronica and Harry’s son.

However, while these complications add flavor to the film, they feel detached and distracting at times. Widows’ soul rests in the widows; their struggle for survival is what the movie thrives on.

Widows offers way too much for its running time. It is perhaps more appropriate as a Netflix or HBO series, so audiences can get more of the characters than is provided by the rushed ending. It is, however, filled with enough humor, payoffs and twists to keep the crowd satisfied in a two-hour seating. (iru/kes)