Widows – Film Review

Liam Neeson leads a criminal gang as they steal a large cash amount from a local rival. Within minutes of the film opening Neeson and friends die in a spectacular showdown with the police that takes their illicit haul down with them. Following his death, Neeson’s widow Veronica (Viola Davis) finds herself not just losing a husband but inheriting the $2 million debt he incurred by dying mid-heist. After uncovering her late husband’s plans for another, bigger heist Veronica assembles her fellow widows (Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki) to do what their husbands were too deceased to finish.

If the above sounds less like a Steve McQueen film and more like the plot of a Lynda La Plante series then you’d be right; McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn adapted their screenplay from La Plante’s 1983 ITV series. The action has been moved from England to Chicago but Flynn’s experience in writing twisty thrillers means the criminal nature of the film is left intact. What McQueen has brought to proceedings is a clever focus on racial inequality in North America and cynical white politicians who try to exploit them. This mix of generic crime drama with something more meaningful elevates the script above its genre mates.

As a director McQueen absolutely excels. From the opening sequence of machismo-driven “romantic” moments intercut with the explosive events that lead to our titular widows earning their name, we are treated to a film made by a man with an eye for detail. With a simple pan of his camera McQueen can play with dialogue and make subtle revelations about the nature of his characters. McQueen has brought Widows a long way from early 80s ITV but there are moments when the necessities of plot come barging in and exposition ruins an otherwise prefect composition. It is the more traditional elements of Widows that holds it back from being a McQueen classic but equally I can see it becoming a modern crime staple.

Viola Davis is an absolute star in the lead role. She holds the film together through her steely determination as she plays a woman who is both strong and falling apart internally. Outside of the widows are a large cast of fine actors keeping the surrounding plot rolling on while Davis, Rodriquez, and Debicki give us our reason to keep caring.

LFF 2018 Day 1 – Widows

Today marks the opening of this year’s BFI London Film Festival. From today until 21st October cinemas across London will be screening the latest and greatest that cinema has to offer (and a few duds no doubt too). The festival opens tonight with visionary director, and LFF regular, Steve McQueen’s latest Widows.

Widows


Liam Neeson leads a criminal gang as they steal a large cash amount from a local rival. Within minutes of the film opening Neeson and friends die in a spectacular showdown with the police that takes their illicit haul down with them. Following his death, Neeson’s widow Veronica (Viola Davis) finds herself not just losing a husband but inheriting the $2 million debt he incurred by dying mid-heist. After uncovering her late husband’s plans for another, bigger heist Veronica assembles her fellow widows (Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki) to do what their husbands were too deceased to finish.

If the above sounds less like a Steve McQueen film and more like the plot of a Lynda La Plante series then you’d be right; McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn adapted their screenplay from La Plante’s 1983 ITV series. The action has been moved from England to Chicago but Flynn’s experience in writing twisty thrillers means the criminal nature of the film is left intact. What McQueen has brought to proceedings is a clever focus on racial inequality in North America and cynical white politicians who try to exploit them. This mix of generic crime drama with something more meaningful elevates the script above its genre mates.

As a director McQueen absolutely excels. From the opening sequence of machismo-driven “romantic” moments intercut with the explosive events that lead to our titular widows earning their name, we are treated to a film made by a man with an eye for detail. With a simple pan of his camera McQueen can play with dialogue and make subtle revelations about the nature of his characters. McQueen has brought Widows a long way from early 80s ITV but there are moments when the necessities of plot come barging in and exposition ruins an otherwise prefect composition. It is the more traditional elements of Widows that holds it back from being a McQueen classic but equally I can see it becoming a modern crime staple.

Viola Davis is an absolute star in the lead role. She holds the film together through her steely determination as she plays a woman who is both strong and falling apart internally. Outside of the widows are a large cast of fine actors keeping the surrounding plot rolling on while Davis, Rodriquez, and Debicki give us our reason to keep caring.

Widows screens at the festival on 10th, 11th, and 12th October before being released in the UK on 6th November.

LFF 2018 – It’s That Time of Year Again…

Brace yourselves. It’s that time of year when I start warming up the blog in the hopes of spending a good chunk of my October watching the best films the world has to offer at the BFI London Film Festival. The full programme is revealed next week but some of the highlights teased so far have me restoring my faith in cinema again. Below are the three that have caught my eye; each from an LFF stalwart. All male directors though… Sorry.

Steve McQueen’s Widows


It has been five years since McQueen had me weeping into my press pass with 12 Years a Slave. Having given us enough time to collect ourselves he returns to London with Widows; a female crime thriller co-written by Gillian Flynn and adapted from a Lynda La Plante TV series. If that pedigree weren’t confusing enough the cast includes Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson. What an embarrassment of riches.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite


Having confounded me in previous years with The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer Lanthimos is back at LFF with what is likely to be a festival favourite. Starring the highest paid non-Marvel actress in cinema Emma Stone, and UK TV’s most powerful actress Olivia Colman, The Favourite is an 18th century English farce about Queen Anne and her correctly spelled favourite. As someone who considers The Lobster to be Lanthimos at his best I can’t wait to see him reunited with Colman in a much meatier role.

Mike Leigh’s Peterloo
In 2010, my first year in London, I watched Boris Johnson introduce Mike Leigh’s Another Year. The film had been funded by the UK Film Council which the Tories had just scrapped. Ah the fun we all had back then! Leigh is the only filmmaker I have seen watching a film at LFF when he had nothing at the festival himself – he sat behind me for the five hour Japanese drama Happy Hour in 2015 – so has proven himself as a true patron of the festival. Returning to the period genre he mastered so well with Mr Turner, Leigh is this time portraying Manchester’s 1819 Peterloo Massacre with the film’s premiere actually taking place in Manchester not London. Mass violence is not something that screams Mike Leigh, but I have no doubt he will tackle it masterfully.

Gone Girl – Film Review

Gone Girl

I’m not* going to attempt a full review of Gone Girl because I feel like there is so much loud praise for the film it really doesn’t need my feeble voice added to the mix. Having been to see it earlier this week however I can’t just say nothing. I am a blogger and so I must blog. For those unaware Gone Girl is the story of Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike) a couple in an imperfect marriage. The film begins as Amy goes missing and Nick finds himself in a media whirlwind as suspicions run rampant. Did Nick murder his wife?

As someone who has read Gillian Flynn’s original novel I came to the film with certain expectations. My brain had already done its own casting, built all the sets, and written the score. I was also already aware of the satisfying reveal that comes neatly at the centre of both novel and film providing a perspective shift and keeping the questions running through your mind from getting too repetitive.

Luckily David Fincher must have peered into my mind as a lot of what I saw on-screen matched my imagination. As a result I wasn’t wasting any time mentally complaining about the layout of a house or colour of someone’s shirt. I had been slightly worried about the casting of Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s obsessive ex Desi Collings but I was proved wrong as Harris gave the perfect performance as a pathetic but controlling man. Similarly Affleck and Pike fit their roles to a tee; neither being wholly likeable or trustworthy but both proving enigmatic despite their failure to generate sympathy. Trying to read the machinations behind their eyes is a game you are unlikely to win.

Gone Girl - Rosamund Pike

My only disappointment with Gone Girl is that I could not watch the film from a completely uninformed point of view and experience each twist and turn with fresh eyes. Regardless of this Gone Girl was a gripping thriller that had me second guessing myself to the end. It may not be Fincher’s finest but is certainly in the better half of his body of work. Gillian Flynn has made good work of adapting her own book; her faithful approach to the text will satisfy diehard fans fearing Hollywood sabotage and cinephiles shouldn’t detect any first-time screenwriter foibles.

Fans of the book will love Gone Girl. Fans of Fincher will too. It’s rare to get a proper 18 certificate film these days and Gone Girl certainly doesn’t shy away from showing you the seedier elements of the story. Dark, tense, and deeply engrossing you will find it hard to tear your eyes away from the screen but at times might need to look away for some relief.

See this as soon as possible or risk having a carefully plotted, if slightly implausible, film spoiled for you.

Gone Girl is in UK cinemas from today.

*Or at least I wasn’t planning to