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Widows Movie Review

Stylish Action and Ensemble Shine in 'Widows'

As I emerged festival-fatigued from the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of "Widows" after a four-movie day, I knew something great had been presented on the screen. The images moved in front of me, but the late showing and my weary eyes couldn't allow me to fairly compute what director Steve McQueen had to offer. Upon its theatrical release and the ability to see a bit more clearly, a second viewing of "Widows" does confirm it's something special.

"Widows" is likely to be reduced to the most surface level of descriptions: an arthouse indie flick with genre trappings, or vice versa. McQueen, along with co-writer Gillian Flynn, have much more than that on their minds, and they impress with breathtaking action and crackling dialog. In 128 minutes, they pack in a great variety of themes, storylines and sociopolitical commentary without ever bludgeoning the audience with any kind of pandering messaging. Combined with some thrilling set pieces, "Widows" is great adult entertainment at the movies.

Based on the British miniseries by Lynda La Plante, "Widows" follows a group of women who are tasked with carrying out a heist after their husbands are killed during a job. Viola Davis stars as Veronica, whose husband Harry (Liam Neeson) left her the plans to his next job before he was killed. It's an extensive plan, meticulously crafted with every detailed covered, but Veronica can't do it alone. It's up to her to find the other widows and see if they are up for the task at hand. She meets Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), and Amanda (Carrie Coon), who is much more hesitant to be involved with Veronica's plan.

That only scratches the surface of "Widows." Colin Farrell co-stars as Jack Mulligan, a local politician destined for election but living in the shadow of his father (Robert Duvall). He's running against Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), whose sidekick brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) have a personal interest in Veronica completing Harry's next job.

It might sound like a busy movie - and it really is - but McQueen and Flynn's script keep things together organically and with rising tension. Some characters get shortchanged along the way, like Cynthia Erivo's Belle, who comes aboard as the getaway driver. Erivo is having a breakout year, stealing every scene in "Bad Times at the El Royale," so it would have been nice to see her more.

Davis, indisputably one of the great actors working today, commands every moment of the movie with fierce vulnerability. She knows there's a job at hand and prepares herself for it but knows she's in much deeper than she ever dreamed she could be. In the supporting cast, Rodriguez gives her best performance since her debut in "Girlfight." Kaluuya, who broke out last year with his Oscar-nominated turn in "Get Out," adds himself to the pantheon of movie villains with his unflinching turn that strikes fear into every scene he appears in.

McQueen, an artist turned filmmaker, creates beautifully constructed action with sweeping camera work and long takes that immerse you in every scene. A great deal of the movie is told in close-up shots and tracking shots but he pulls away and keeps us outside of certain scenes to great effect. He skillfully knows when we should be involved or when things should be left to our own interpretation. He and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt frame a scene with such pristine intensity, your heart will be racing in the quietest of moments.

Thrill seekers who are looking for a 90-minute whiz-bang action picture might feel cheated by "Widows," which is unfortunate because the movie is as thrilling as anything to come out this year. The heist is paired with social commentary about Chicago and the world outside of the central characters' plan, which gives the movie a lived-in quality that escapes so many films of its ilk. The political and social climate of Chicago sneaks into the lives of the characters', creating depth along their journey. You will be rewarded at every turn of "Widows."


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