Skip to main content

If this whole thing goes wrong, I want my kids to know that I just didn't sit there and take it. I did something.

Widows
(2018)

(SPOILERS) Widows might have made a decent comedy. It’s certainly the only way its premise and ensuing plot wouldn’t have seemed ludicrous. Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Lynda LaPlante's 1980s TV series (tellingly, he'd have been thirteen when it was first broadcast, a great leveller of an age in terms of accepting daft ideas at face value - see my love for Dempsey and Makepeace) has been mystifyingly venerated by critics, apparently wont to leave their faculties at the door when it comes to an art house director brandishing content easily clutched to bosoms if it has even a whiff of political acuteness.


McQueen and Gillian Flynn (Sharp Objects, Gone Girl, so no stranger to absurd twists herself) adapted LaPlante's work, but the basics remain in place; the wives of a gang of robbers, none of them remotely experienced in criminal ways aside from spending their husbands' loot, decide to pull a heist when their spouses die in a job gone wrong. They have a month to pay back a crime boss, so really have to hone their lack of skills in that time. 


So yeah, if this was a comedy caper with most probably Melissa McCarthy, it might score some yuks, including an amusing shooting range montage and wacky scrapes as the gals attempt to gather the necessary info and equipment (actually, there almost is the latter, courtesy of Elizabeth Debicki). Or perhaps even if this was the kind of swish, heightened, glossy affair of Ocean's 8 – although, at least there everyone has some degree of experience in criminal endeavours – there'd be a free pass for style over substance. But McQueen's worst crime is taking it all very seriously. 


Reviewers have mentioned Widows in the same breath as Heat and the director calls it "political pop" – as well as, in a sign of rampant self-delusion, professing "I don’t want to call it a heist movie as I don't even know what that means" – setting it in 2008 Chicago, a milieu of rising murder rates and the sparring political ambitions of resident Irish American and up-and-coming African American fraternities. With its female leads, there have been inevitable references to the picture's #MeToo cred ("“It’s a #MeToo revenge story with a Black Lives Matter backbone" claimed IndieWire, risibly; slap that one on the DVD case, if you dare), as if any form of cultural cachet is immediately a sign of quality. Really, though, with material this half-baked, attaching a boast of relevance can't help but look extremely cynical (or perhaps it's the opposite: tragically naïve).


The political/organised crime element works relatively well, mostly because it isn't outright silly. It's dramatically coherent in a way the main body simply isn't, but that also means it really has very little business being there; it feels like it has been stapled on to "sisters do crimes" in an attempt to make the whole more credible. Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall do sterling work as motivationally at-odds generations of the Mulligan clan. 


The tentative political ambitions of crime boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), keen to get in on a scene that will open crucial doors in terms of business and perceived legitimacy, also has potential, but too often this side falls prey to the crude, short-hand antics of his enforcer brother (Daniel Kaluuya, evidently eager to show he can play nasty), the movie's equivalent of shouting "THIS IS SERIOUS!" in your ear, with a trail of bullet holes, stabbings and blown out brains in its wake.


The wives – Viola Davis surviving Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez evidently best shot of gambler Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Elizabeth Debicki turning to high class call girl after wife beater hubby Jon Bernthal (typecast as a baddie again) is shot and blown to bits; Carrie Coon's Amanda loses Coburn Goss, but wants to keep out of it, although as we see this isn't just motivated by wanting to steer clear of trouble – are well performed to a fault, but also a collection of broad stroke clichés. Davis all steely and resolved but vulnerable within, Debicki battered and frail but showing her resolve beneath, Rodriguez does Rodriguez. 


Only Cynthia Erivo, underwritten to her benefit as a babysitter/beautician who gets inveigled as their driver, remotely seems like she has the smarts and capability of pulling off the job, and yet she isn't even called upon to set foot in the house. Somehow Davis succeeds, despite a fatality (it's alright, he’s a nasty old bastid) and a casualty (it's alright, just a flesh wound). And after all that, she strips down to a vest, to show she meant business, and puts a bullet in hubby, who faked his own death with Farrell's help. Wait, what?


Yes, this cheesiest of pulp twists, deserving of bargain-bin Julia Roberts movies back when she didn't know any better, is piled on top of the already straining under the weight of implausibility Widows, and the response is derisive snorts all round. When Neeson surfaces alive and well (in Coon's spare room) my first thought was "Nah, she's just seeing him because they had an affair, there the way Davis has flashbacks". But no, sadly. I mean, McQueen is more than welcome to put his name to any old crap, even to pen the adaptation, but it does rather call into question the judgement of the guy previously rightly feted for Shame, Hunger and 12 Years a Slave, if he really thinks this is anything other than straight-to-video nonsense.


The thing is, for all that I think the screenplay is largely atrocious, and McQueen's got no one but himself to blame for his adoration of LaPlante's original, he does fashion a quite watchable picture. It looks very nice – everything is as crisp, precise and composed as you'd expect – and the heist, when it happens is very slick, and he clearly works well with actors (others of note include Lukas Haas calling on Debicki's services and Gareth Dillahunt in a rare nice guy role as Davis' driver). Neeson's hardly in it enough not to appear somnambulant, but even he’s given something to chew on in the flashbacks concerning their son. The scene of the latter’s death is highly impactful, but like so much of the political-hued material, it doesn't feel as if it belongs in something otherwise so trite.


It's clear both from interviews and the movie itself that a whole lot got cut down, to the extent that elements are left dangling or simply don't make sense (did Davis pay back Henry?; how are there no repercussions for anyone involved – I don't really mean from Farrell who probably doesn't care about the money and was surely glad to be shot of dad – all of whom seem to be staying in the area?; how could a school library refurbishment be dedicated to a known criminal's dead son without serious questions being asked about where the money came from?) Even as fast-and-loose with internal logic Hollywood fare, Widows takes some swallowing. As self-important "political pop", it's laughable.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.