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LFF 2018: Widows review - the most politically explosive film of the year

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Verdict: Steve McQueen has done it again - an absolute must-see.

This long awaited adaptation of Lynda La Plante’s novel comes from co-writer ‘Gone Girl’ author Gillian Flynn and 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, and it more than lives up to expectations.

With names like that behind it, and the ridiculously long list of famous names in the cast, the pressure for this film to perform is colossal. Expectations are sky high, but don’t worry - the film stil manages to smash them.

Viola Davis is, as expected, an absolute force of nature as Veronica Rawlins, the well-to-do widow of respected thief Harry (Liam Neeson). Not much more than some uncomfortably tongue-heavy kissing sets up their relationship initially, but it’s through a series of heartrending flashbacks that we  truly begin to understand them.

The backdrop of the film is different from the book and the TV series - both set in London. Instead, McQueen’s version unfolds in a Chicago rife with racial tensions. Legacy candidate Jack Mulligan  (Colin Farrell) runs against political newcomer Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) for the position of Alderman of Ward 18, and when campaign funds get mixed up in the heist, it raises the stakes for the widows exponentially.

Though the focus is indeed mostly on the phenomenal women in this film, special mention does deserve to go the stand-out man: Daniel Kaluuya as Manning’s sinister brother. More than willing and capable to get his hands dirty where his brother can’t, Kaluuya once more proves his unbelievable versatility as he strikes absolute terror into the hearts of the audience and the unfortunate victims of his intimidation tactics. An unflinching performance that deserves high praise.

Of the widows, it is Davis and Elizabeth Debicki who have the meatiest roles, with Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo (Bad Times at the El Royale), and Carrie Coon (The Leftovers) somewhat wasted. As a group, though, it is in the contrast of their experiences that the core of this film is revealed. Their gender groups them together while their races and classes set them apart. The options available to them, the way they think and react, the choices they make — all are shaped by their status in society, and it’s brilliant to have so complex a variety of women rendered so three dimensionally on screen.

No shade to Ocean’s 8, which was a fantastically fun film, but rather than quippy one-liners and pithy girl-power, Widows addresses the reality of how not only heists, but life itself is different for women than it is for men. The challenges faced are unique to the female experience, and overcome in a uniquely female way. Being underestimated and desired and overlooked are all weapons in these women’s arsenal, but so are, like, actual glocks, as well as truly mind-blowing guns of the bicep variety from Cynthia Erivo.

The morality of the film is complex — no one is on the right side of the law, but it’s a given that the law isn’t the marker of morality at all. The only presence of law enforcement is as an oppressive force throughout, and the characters all operate by an unspoken honour code anyway. It’s a film made by and for those not served by the state, and it couldn’t be clearer in that message. 

The violently casual racism displayed by Farrell’s character masks a subtler evil — apathy. The apathy of those in political power towards being in office at all, let alone fulfilling their duty to help people. One of the standout moments of the film comes as Farrell and his assistant angrily throw racist insults at his opponent in the back of a chauffeur driven car faceless-ly, as the camera solely shows the windscreen, with glimpses of the black driver at the wheel.

Though Widows is a heist movie, the heist itself doesn’t last longer than ten minutes on screen. The tightly crafted script uses the framework of the heist to make way for an explosive thriller, a contemplative character study, and a politically charged call to action all in one. The threads weave together impeccably to create an absolute masterpiece.

Widows hits cinemas on November 6th. Watch a  new clip from the film below.

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