steve mcqueen

In Steve McQueen's Near-Masterpiece, "Widows", Change Is Front and Center by Keith LaFountaine

Widows is about much more than a heist. On the surface, this remake of the 1983 miniseries updates its characters and themes accordingly to further service its slick, explosive action. However, there is something deeper going on here; McQueen is not just telling a story about a heist, he's telling a story about change.

This is ironic given the events of the final act, but I think that is intentional. Rather, I am confident it is. Widows takes place during an election. Jack Mulligan is running for alderman of his ward, a position his family has held for decades. Running against him is Jamal Manning, a man of color who also happens to be involved in criminal enterprises throughout Chicago. Their election largely happens behind the scenes, with flashes of yard signs, radio broadcasts, and occasional conversations being all we see. Yet, the implications of this election's outcome directly parallel the importance of the widows' final heist. Both have the potential to change everything.

At the end of the day, though, very rarely do things change on a macro scale. While in film and television we are used to seeing these macro changes -- elections bringing sweeping change, characters attaining millions of dollars and running away to another country, and more -- the smaller, more personal changes have more of an impact. Not only is it more realistic for a person to change rather than an entire ward, it's more fulfilling for us as a viewer. Yet, it is also more difficult for us to process.

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Widows follows four women who undertake a heist in the wake of their husbands’ death. As they do, Jack Mulligan fights to win a seat for alderman that his family has held for four decades from insurgent candidate Jamal Manning.

Widows is nearly perfect when it comes to characterization. Aside from the men, who we don't have time to really contextualize due to the nature of the plot, every character is handled with care and depth. Even Robert Duvall's character -- the slimy, sinister Tom Mulligan -- has enough characterization for him to seem like a real person while also functioning as an integral part of the plot. The women are also very well written, especially Viola Davis as Veronica. Their individual stories are interesting, though the film really fires on all cylinders when they are together. The final twenty minutes are a perfect example of how consistent characterization and meticulous plotting can lead to a memorable and exhilarating climax.

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McQueen's direction is just as impressive as you would expect. His visuals are always on-point (especially one of the final moments in the film, where two characters' faces are reflected in mirrors in a wide angle shot), but his editing is particularly taut. Despite the film's runtime topping out at two hours and ten minutes, the pacing is brisk and engaging. You never feel as though the story is going to fast, nor too slow; rather, it is taking its time in the right places, and pushing you to the brink in others. Gillian Flynn's writing is as good as one would expect. Her ear for dialogue is as sharp as ever, and paired with McQueen's weighty themes, they make a great team. I would love to see them work together on future projects.

I have a bad feeling that Widows is going to get passed over this year. It's not doing well at the box office, and it's the kind of film that we will look back on with fondness. I even think this is the kind of film film professors will dissect in classes, especially in terms of its sociological themes. I implore you to go see it in theaters though, if for no other reason than it is a thrilling, exciting, and engaging experience.


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“WIDOWS” ★★★★½ 

directed by STEVE McQUEEN

written by GILLIAN FLYNN & STEVE McQUEEN

released November 16, 2018 || Rated R || 129 MIN