‘Widows’ – A Dark Tapestry Of Corruption | Film Review
Director Steve McQueen crafts another film from the plight of characters having to fight against a system that has wronged them; this one forged out of a combination of corruption, power, oppression, and love.
Set in Chicago during a fierce battle for Alderman of the South Side project, this isn’t your Ocean’s Eleven-type heist film. The heist itself is far from elaborate and takes up probably less than twenty minutes of the actual runtime. It’s a means to an end; what McQueen is more interested in is the tapestry of a modern city eating itself alive, and trying to find some hope in that black hole.
Corruption slivers beneath the surface of both major alderman candidates – the slippery Colin Farrell and the extremely impressive Brian Tyree Henry – who both have money issues that have nothing to do with public office. It paints a picture of public governmental figures just being a front, with all the real dealing happening under the table.
Daniel Kaluuya – Tyree Henry’s violent right-hand man – arguably wields more power than either of them, existing practically above the law and doing the dirtiest of dirty work. He’s a real menacing threat here, and is the actual person to push the plot into place.
To steal a line from another prominent political film, Widows could simply be described with “follow the money”, since that is the catalyst for practically everything that happens here. People in higher positions press hard on the people on the rung below to come up with funds, who do the same to the ones below them, until you’re left with a group of widows having to pull off a heist to basically stay alive.
There’s a little commentary on capitalism and power dynamics, but it’s more about the ruthless machinations of a world that has no remorse for people deemed unimportant by society, forcing them to scratch and claw against each other.
But while this is a dark film, it’s also got glimpses of hope. The central crux revolves around women who have had everything taken from, or were never given anything in the first place, fighting back in a world ran by corrupt men and taking matters into their own hands.
This is co-written by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), and there are similar themes of women pushing back (and pushing hard) at the expense of (their) men in a world that doesn’t respect them.
Farrell’s politician Jack Mulligan is a great example of this; a corrupt guy who excels at the on-camera function of his job. He’s seen giving this patronising speech about creating jobs for minority women in his area, and he parades his “success stories” out on stage with him. The message is clear: these women are just pawns in his political game, used for good press and nothing more.
There’s also a great shot of Mulligan and his assistant leaving this speech in his big black SUV, simply driving back to headquarters. Mulligan is whining about a reporter that’s been following him and is going back-and-forth with his assistant. Most other directors would just shoot this scene in the back seat of the car, but McQueen does something far more interesting.
He mounts the camera to the front of the car. The two characters get in the back seat and have this debate, but we don’t see them at all, we just hear them like a voiceover. Instead, in one take, the car drives and the camera focuses on the real-life Chicago streets – the ones Mulligan is supposed to be representing and protecting. Instead, he’s asking his female assistant uncomfortable sexual questions.
It nicely sums up the film; while this is a movie filled with superb characters, they are mostly all seen as expendable. This is more about the city (or any city) and the power-hungry people that endanger it.
It goes without saying that this is impeccably acted, edited, and directed. Viola Davis steals the show and likely has another Best Actress Oscar nomination in her future for a role that requires her to run the gamut; from broken widow to tough-as-nails head honcho and beyond.
McQueen has become one of those trusted filmmakers that never lets you down. Widows immediately enters itself into the conversation of his best film. His cynical appraisal of the political game, the things people are forced to do to keep their head above water, in a world that doesn’t care for them, is rewarding and thrilling.
And despite all the darkness on view, there might even be a little light at the end of the tunnel.
Widows is in cinemas now.
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