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Crime drama's stars steal show

Female-driven Widows far deeper, stronger than the patronizing Ocean's Eight

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/11/2018 (240 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After Ocean's Eight, director Steve McQueen's Widows is the second female-driven studio heist movie to be released in 2018.

What a difference quality makes.

Putting aside for a second the fact Ocean's Eight is a comedy and Widows is decidedly dramatic, a comparison is still useful. Side-by-side, Ocean's Eight comes off as an insufferably patronizing piece that offers up the most glib lip-service-y premise: hey, why can't the gals pull off a heist, too? It then proceeded to lock the story into the same procedural template as the George Clooney Ocean movies as performed by actresses gamely playing distaff variations of Danny Ocean's crew. In heels.

Widows can't help but impress as a far more substantive piece of work, not because there are no laughs, but because it is an organic story where the stakes are higher and the characters more credible, and thus worthy of investment.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/11/2018 (240 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After Ocean's Eight, director Steve McQueen's Widows is the second female-driven studio heist movie to be released in 2018.

What a difference quality makes.

Putting aside for a second the fact Ocean's Eight is a comedy and Widows is decidedly dramatic, a comparison is still useful. Side-by-side, Ocean's Eight comes off as an insufferably patronizing piece that offers up the most glib lip-service-y premise: hey, why can't the gals pull off a heist, too? It then proceeded to lock the story into the same procedural template as the George Clooney Ocean movies as performed by actresses gamely playing distaff variations of Danny Ocean's crew. In heels.

Widows can't help but impress as a far more substantive piece of work, not because there are no laughs, but because it is an organic story where the stakes are higher and the characters more credible, and thus worthy of investment.

In Widows, Michelle Rodriguez (from left), Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki play widows of recently deceased criminals who conspire to finish off what their husbands started. (20th Century Fox)</p>

In Widows, Michelle Rodriguez (from left), Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki play widows of recently deceased criminals who conspire to finish off what their husbands started. (20th Century Fox)

Widows is based on an ahead-of-the-curve Brit miniseries from 1983 written by Lynda La Plante (Prime Suspect) about a trio of women — the wives of recently deceased criminals — obliged to pull off the gang ringleader's last meticulously planned job, or face the wrath of the hoodlum victims of the gang's last score.

McQueen's film is much shorter at 130 minutes, but doesn't feel fast. McQueen is a slow-burner filmmaker (Hunger; Shame; 12 Years a Slave) and takes his time building this narrative fire.

Viola Davis is Veronica, a smart woman who unwisely fell for a career criminal (Liam Neeson) who has left her in a pickle following the conflagration that ended his gang's final heist, the result of a police shootout. Compounding the crisis, the $2-million score was taken from fraternal Chicago hoods Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry) and Jatemme Manning (Daniel Kaluuya, the erstwhile hero of last year's Get Out). Jamal had intended to use that money as a stake to enter the political arena, and he visits Veronica to threaten her to make good on the missing cash.

Reasoning that the other widows may be in trouble too, she arranges a meeting. Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) has lost her bridal shop in the wake of dead hubby's gambling debts. Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), freed from the abusive ways of her late hubby, is nonetheless in a financial quandary that compels her, at the suggestion of her hardbitten mother (Jacki Weaver) to consider a life of upscale prostitution.

But Veronica comes into possession of her husband's personal planning book, which painstakingly plots out every step of a future heist with a value of $5 million in cash. She takes the job to the other women, who sign on. In a nod to the female dynamics in play, Linda has to arrange for a babysitter while attending meetings and that caregiver, Belle (Cynthia Erivo), is ultimately enlisted to serve as a getaway driver.

Daniel Kaluuya (left) and Brian Tyree Henry play criminal brothers in Widows who want their missing cash back. (20th Century Fox)</p>

Daniel Kaluuya (left) and Brian Tyree Henry play criminal brothers in Widows who want their missing cash back. (20th Century Fox)

It's long odds for success, especially since the women also find themselves pitted against a degree of civic corruption embodied by crooked alderman Tom Mulligan (Colin Farrell), a second-generation politician/racketeer, following in the footsteps of his venal racist father (Robert Duvall).

One advantage, summarized by Veronica: "No one thinks we have the balls to pull this off."

Co-scripted by McQueen and novelist Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), Widows is a surprising combination of drama and action, which McQueen tends to shoot with a preference for elaborate, long single takes. But the drama anchors it, thanks to a strong cast.

It's a real pleasure to see Michelle Rodriguez depart from the tough Latina cartoon from countless Fast/Furious movies to get her teeth into a more nuanced role. The willowy Debicki seems an odd fit for the gang, but she proves herself in a role where her character acquires empowering resources in the commission of a heist. Kaluuya, such a sympathetic victim in Get Out, proves to be a dastardly, volatile villain.

But of course, it is largely Viola Davis's show, and she up for the heavy lifting of a heroine who deftly juggles grief, anger and survival instincts with dazzling confidence.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Viola Davis (left) and Cynthia Erivo do the heavy lifting in Widows. (Merrick Morton / 20th Century Fox)</p>

Viola Davis (left) and Cynthia Erivo do the heavy lifting in Widows. (Merrick Morton / 20th Century Fox)

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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