Film Review: Widows

Steve McQueen’s Widows is a brilliant thriller, and a testament to the director’s cinematic mastery. The film is a tour de force. 

After a robbery goes wrong, the wives of criminals find themselves in debt to the wrong people. The women decide to take their fate into their own hands with an audacious plan…

There is so much to love about Widows that is pretty much impossible to find fault. With a screenplay by McQueen and Gillian Flynn, based on the Lynda La Plante novel, Widows offers a gripping narrative, multi-dimensional characters, and superlative filmmaking. 

From the startling jump cut opening (brilliantly edited Joe Walker), Widows is a film that grabs viewers and refuses to let go. The plot is fairly straightforward, yet there are so many elements which elevates the film way above a standard thriller. The pacing works well, rather than simply build tension towards a big heist, McQueen creates multiple strands, each with a sufficiently rich narrative. The characters are finely tuned; the protagonists have depth and feel realistic. The film is tense and captivating, and the finale almost breathtaking. Widows is a rare film in that the dialogue heavy and the action packed scenes work equally well. 

On the surface, Widows may be a heist thriller, but in reality it is so much more. The film has multiple layers. It is interested in what happens to women who aren’t the main breadwinner, and how they pick up the pieces in an unexpected circumstance. It considers political climate in the US through the local election battle. Political dynasty, the entitlement of a certain demographic, and the pursuit of power are all touched upon. McQueen also turns his lens to the divide between rich and poor, and the realities for black people in America. None of these elements are overplayed, instead they are enveloped by a well-crafted narrative.

McQueen and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt do some really interesting and effective things with the camera. The scene in which Jatemme and his crew confront the two young men is finely executed. The circling camera heightens the tension immensely. Likewise, later shots following the heist and the startling opening sequence show the talent behind the camera. Hans Zimmer’s score is great, and the sound design immensely effective.

The ensemble cast are all on form. Viola Davis is as convincing as ever as Veronica; she perfectly conveys the grief, anger and fear of the character. Elizabeth Debicki and Robert Duvall are also great. Daniel Kaluuya stands out in particular. Kaluuya is incredibly menacing as Jatemme; his believability is testament to the actor’s versatility.

Widows is Steve McQueen’s most accessible film to date. Yet it loses none of the artistry that we have come to expect from the filmmaker. Undoubtedly, Widows is one of the best films of the year.

Widows opens the BFI London Film Festival on 10th October 2018.

Film Review: The Judge

The Judge

The Judge offers solid performances from its two leads. Nonetheless, this is not enough to carry the entire film.

High profile lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his small hometown for the first time in years after a family bereavement. When his estranged father, the long-standing town judge, is arrested for murder, Hank sets out help him…

The premise of The Judge is decent enough. There is an element of mystery to the case which should engage viewers for the most part. In fact, if the film had concentrated on the criminal case, it is likely that The Judge would have been a more satisfying film.

However, director David Dobkin chooses to concentrate on the relationship dynamic rather than the criminal case in The Judge. The central narrative of the strained relationship between father and son is not necessarily a bad thing. Nevertheless, the characters are not developed sufficiently to make this compelling. There is something rather two-dimensional about the characters. They are archetypes, which the audience will be familiar with. Whilst reasons for the difficult relationship are explained as the film progresses, these never feel fully authentic.

Ultimately, The Judge is let down by this, as well as its pacing. The film is overlong, with plenty of scenes that do little to move along plot or to further develop characters. The climax of the film is particularly mawkish. Whilst a breakthrough in the relationship needed to occur, the setting and reaction of observers seems to break noticeably from what would be the reality. The Judge may have had a greater impact if a greater degree of subtlety had been employed.

Robert Duvall offers a strong performance as Joseph Palmer. Robert Downey Jr. brings his charisma to Hank; a role not dissimilar from other lead characters he has played. It is almost as if the screenwriters have relied on the actor’s persona to build the character.

The Judge offers a high-calibre cast, but a lacklustre end product. Ultimately, the film feels like a wasted opportunity.