Viola Davis (centre left) and Colin Farrell in a scene from Widows, on now at the Silver City Tillicum in Victoria. foxmovies.com

MOYES ON MOVIES: Widows more thoughtful filmmaking from director Steve McQueen

Viola Davis gives masterful performance, one of several you might see this holiday season

By Robert Moyes

Monday Magazine reviewer

Hollywood has made many a heist film over the years, but few have been as intriguing as the Chicago-based Widows, where a robbery gone wrong leads into a twisty tale exploring issues of race, gender, and corruption in contemporary America.

The movie opens on four career criminals as a job goes spectacularly, fatally awry. Harry (Liam Neeson) was the gang’s leader and he leaves behind a grieving widow, Veronica (Viola Davis, Doubt, The Help), who unexpectedly gets visited by a ruthless black gangster. Turns out that Harry and his men were stealing $2 million from some very bad dudes and since that loot was incinerated during the fiery police takedown, Veronica is given one month to pay it back … or else.

Rattled but gutsy, Veronica arranges a meeting with her three fellow widows to confront their plight. In possession of a notebook with elaborate plans for what would have been Harry’s next job, Veronica dangles a $5-million payday in front of the reluctant, law-abiding trio as she struggles to persuade them to pull on balaclavas and do some high-stakes heisting of their own.

As these women shop for a getaway van and practise their shooting at a gun range, another subplot slowly unfolds involving a suave, deeply corrupt politician named Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). It’s the middle of an election campaign and Jack hopes to retain the seat that his father (Robert Duvall, in a marvelously cantankerous performance) has occupied for decades.

This is a cynical family dynasty that has gotten filthy rich while going through the motions of representing a poor black neighbourhood. And thanks to recent scandals, Jack finds himself in a real election fight as some local – but equally corrupt – black representatives position themselves as saviours of this passed-over community. And as the film’s two storylines gradually converge, a dozen characters find themselves driven to extremes by greed and desperation.

Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen is best known for 12 Years a Slave, but his serious-minded filmography has also addressed the murderous politics of Northern Ireland (Hunger) and the dark obsessions of a sex addict (Shame). Not surprisingly, this uncompromising artist uses the mechanics of an action flick not merely to provide thrills but also to paint a disturbing picture of violence and amorality. Even though ambitious Widows has been more popular with critics than a general audience, anyone interested in great acting and thoughtful filmmaking should check this one out.

Rating: ***1/2

Stars Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell

Directed by Steve McQueen

OTHERS TO CHECK OUT:

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The ever-delightful Coen Brothers return to the Wild West with this anthology sextet of short tales ranging from James Franco as a wannabe bank robber to Zoe Kazan leading a wagon train across the prairies. Giddy-up!

Roma

Great Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) delivers a mostly-autobiographical epic set in 1970s Mexico City. Filmed in black and white.

Vice

Christian Bale plays perfidious American vice president Dick Cheney in a star-studded biopic that will have political buffs salivating. With Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, and Bill Pullman.

Holmes & Watson

Although there is no shortage of cinematic and TV versions of these iconic Victorian-era crime fighters, who wouldn’t want to see a spoofy version powered by the droll antics of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly?

Aquaman

DC Comics unleashes its trident-toting underwater superhero (Jason Momoa) in an action spectacular where our entire planet is in peril. With Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, and Nicole Kidman.

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