We were going to an event in Balboa Park, and my wife suggested we stop and see the Mustang that Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt. It was at the Air & Space Museum. I said, “I love McQueen, but who cares about seeing his car? I’d rather see the 1961 Ferrari 250GT used in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” [Ferris fun fact: it wasn’t a real Ferrari, but four different kit cars built in El Cajon].
Steve McQueen is an actor I’ve always liked, and for new generations, that name will be associated instead with the director of the same name. Critics always praise his work, but I’m not as impressed. His first movie Hunger was okay, but Shame was a mess (Michael Fassbender as a sex addict). 12 Years a Slave had its moments, but was highly overrated. Now McQueen gives us a genre picture. It’s a caper film that actor Steve McQueen might have done in the early ‘70s. Now, those types of movies can be fun, if done right. This one isn’t. I suspect a lot of people will just want to praise the fact that it’s a female cast trying to pull it all off.
It’s very serious with preposterous scenarios and no comedic moments to lighten things up. McQueen co-wrote this with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects), another person that writes preposterous scenarios (did anybody buy the second half of Gone Girl?)
The story takes place in Chicago in the ‘80s. Three guys end up getting killed during a heist. The money they were taking burned up, and there’s some bad dudes that want that cash. They threaten the widows of these men, who have no other recourse than to….wait for it…finish the heist one of the dead man had planned and conveniently planned in detail in a notebook in a lockbox. Veronica (Viola Davis) is the head widow, and she sternly lectures the other women on why they should participate. And when we see the financial problems they’re having (one loses a store she owns, the other turns to prostitution), they’re on board.
Sure, Liam Neeson died in that opening heist, but you see him in flashbacks. They do a decent job of showing the love he and the Davis character had for each other, and there’s decent chemistry between the two.
Brian Tyree Henry does a solid job as a gangster turned politician, although that character would’ve been a lot more interesting if he just subtly threatened people he had disagreements with. In this, they try to pull a John Wick, and have him even make threats to a cute, fluffy little dog. A more subtle approach, with the menacing just under the surface, can be more interesting. Think, for example, about how much more effective it is seeing Christoph Waltz waltz into a farmhouse at the beginning of Inglorious Basterds, faking a smile and talking nonsense about milk…as opposed to him showing up and yelling, punching, and shooting up the place right away.
The screenwriters try hard to make some political statements with Henry’s character, and at one point, we see Robert Duvall in a few scenes. He’s an old-school, racist republican that’s always at odds with his son who is running for office. He’s played by Colin Farrell, who has never seen an accent he can completely master.
This has the first performance of Viola Davis’ career that I haven’t liked. And that can only be blamed on McQueen. There’s no nuance to her character, and it’s a rather uninteresting performance. She’s an angry, focused woman. Sometimes a character like that can be fun, but not in this picture.
I’ve never been a fan of Michelle Rodriguez. She doesn’t have much range and always looks like she smells something bad.
Elizabeth Debicki was okay in her part, but the things the character does aren’t believable.
You watch this movie, thinking of all the possibilities. It could’ve tackled gender empowerment, economic problems, politics, grieving…and it does make an attempt. It’s just that McQueen is so bad at doing it.
There are a few scenes in the movie that are interesting. One of those involves Farrell’s character giving a speech in a poor neighborhood where construction has just begun on some redevelopment project of his. He has to deal with a heckler, as well as a restless, poor community. When he gets into his car to go back to his home/headquarters, we see the houses get bigger and nicer as he gets closer to his neighborhood. It was an interesting idea that worked well.
Seeing a flashback of a cop killing a black teenager that merely made an illegal u-turn…is a tired premise. We just saw it last month in The Hate U Give (one of the few interesting things about that movie). Seek out Blindspotting for that type of scene, that’s also contained in a terrific film.
Widows is based on a British show from the ‘80s. I’m not familiar with it, but…I’m guessing it’s a lot more intriguing than this shoot ‘em up.
2 stars out of 5.