Hello there! It’s been a while, but I’m back and better than ever. And I bring with me some reviews from BFI London Film Festival. It was 2 weeks of pure cinematic bliss, the programme was fantastic this year with several films either focusing on women or made by women. Well done, BFI!
Steve McQueen’s Widows opened the festival and what a opening that was! McQueen, known for hard-hitting dramas like Shame and 12 Years a Slave seemed like an unlikely director to tackle such a generic action film. The beauty of Widows is that while the source material might not bring anything new to the table, McQueen and his wonderful cast elevate it to a whole new level.
The story follows Veronica (the superb Viola Davis) whose husband dies during a robbery with 3 other men. Unfortunately for their widows, the men were stealing from a local politician and crook Jamal Manning who is now out for blood if he doesn’t get his money back. Veronica’s late husband has left a detailed plan of their next job which Veronica decides to execute with the other widows to pay Jamal back and claim their financial freedom.
So far, so generic, but Widows has one of the most kinetic and engaging opening sequences I can remember seeing in… well, ever. McQueen intercuts the fiery action of the robbery with scenes of the widows at home with their husbands. Especially the quiet, simple image of Veronica and Harry kissing on the bed has real impact when contrasted with a car chase we know won’t end well. The sequence is so good that nothing else quite matches it in terms of action and emotinal impact during the rest of the film.
There is very little that can be said about Viola Davis that hasn’t been said before. She is ferocious as Veronica, with balls bigger than those of all the men present in the film combined. She is backed up by equally powerful performances from Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez. Debicki’s character Alice goes through the biggest transformation after losing her husband, who might have been cruel but took care of everything for Alice. Michelle Rodriguez plays against type here; Linda is tough for sure, but she’s also more vulnerable than Rodriguez’ typical screen roles.
Out of the men, Daniel Kaluuya steals the show. His turn as Jamal’s psychotic brother proves that his Oscar-nominated turn in Get Out last year was no fluke; this guy is the real deal. It’s only the storyline concerning Colin Farrell’s Jack Mulligan, another local politician, that doesn’t quite land, it simply isn’t as interesting as the other stuff McQueen throws at us. The problem isn’t that any of the men in Widows are bad per se, they’re just completely outshone by the women and rightly so. This isn’t a film about the male experience. It’s a film about the struggle of being a woman in the middle of men. Men who attempt to own you, who believe it is their right to own you and your fate.
Widows is easily the most accessible of McQueen’s films and it’s easy to dismiss it as a lesser film than his previous ones, but Widows is simply a genre film and a damn good one as well. Widows is not as action-packed as it would like you to believe it is, but McQueen’s take on an action film is never less than excellent and exhilarating. The ending might be a bit too neat and preditactable but Widows is an exercise in creating tension and character driven action, that’s engaging and dynamic. At it’s best, Widows is like a female-driven version of Drive, just with less fragile male egos. At it’s worst… well it’s still a damn fine film that makes you wonder why can’t all films be this well made?