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: 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave is a masterpiece. Steve McQueen’s film is powerful, brutal, and endlessly compelling.

In the 1940s, Solomon Northup is a free black musician from upstate New York. His comfortable lifestyle and loving family are ripped from him when Solomon is abducted and sold into slavery…

12 Years a Slave is a definitive film on the subject of slavery. Based on Solomon Northup’s memoir, McQueen’s film certainly packs a punch. The narrative works to pull viewers in. The use of flashbacks are effective in drawing a strong contrast in Solomon’s life pre and during slavery.

Steve McQueen’s direction is sublime. He does not shy away from presenting the brutality of Solomon’s story. The film is violent, in a realistic and disturbing manner. This is never gratuitous, but simply highlighting realities of the time.

Characters in 12 Years a Slave are depicted in a three-dimensional way. Screenwriter John Ridley carves a solid protagonist in Solomon, one that viewers will fully engage with. It is not difficult to feel immensely involved with the character, such is the injustice suffered. Other characters are equally well drawn; there are shades of grey among the good and bad.

12 Years a Slave is wonderfully shot by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. The sunsets are key in marking the passing of time. Hans Zimmer’s score is gorgeous. There is a a striking juxtaposition between the beauty of the film and the horrific nature of what is depicted.

Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a powerhouse performance that is sure to receive numerous accolades. Michael Fassbender is also excellent plantation owner Epps, while Lupita Nyong’o is superb as Patsey. There is a melancholia to her performance which is affecting.

The skill of McQueen, the cast and the crew is that they have taken a true story and made it cinematic without ever losing its potency. 12 Years a Slave is an unmissable film.

12 Years a Slave is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2013.