Transplanting a British miniseries to modern day Chicago centering on a quarter of women completing a heist started by their late husbands, Steve McQueen’s mystery/drama Widows (A) is juicy, layered, intense and phenomenal. Buoyed by an excellent Viola Davis as the central protagonist (her late husband is inspired casting: Liam Neeson) and boasting an across the board fabulous ensemble, the film roars with thrilling intensity while always keeping the characters grounded in reality. McQueen organically laces into his vigilante milieu themes of racial and gender inequality and empowerment, cycles of crime and violence and the tenuous ecosystem of gangland and political turf. The film is ultimately a fugue on who’s playing one another in an elaborate urban powder-keg, with subtle shifts and surprises keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. Despite topicality, it’s extremely entertaining. Kudos to Elizabeth Debicki, who shape shifts in a complex emotional role as an abused woman discovering her power, and Daniel Kaluuya who plays against type as a cold-blooded criminal. Robert Duvall and Colin Ferrell are also superb as a father-son political dynasty brokering alliances in a corrupt neighborhood. The film is not for the faint of heart and doesn’t pull back from showing the evil that men do. Expect to see Viola Davis honored for characteristically superb work – she’s daring, direct and dramatically controlled – and it would be wonderful if McQueen’s thoughtful female-led thriller catches fire at the box office and awards season.
Note: This film will be available in wide release theatrically November 16, 2018.
Gareth Edwards’s Rogue One (B) is the Star Wars film that puts its titular wars front and center with a Dirty Dozen style assemblage of warriors embarking on a strategic mission. This first standalone film outside the typical trilogy format is graced with whiz-bang visuals and bursts of muscular action, some of it a little too self-conscious as if the special effects folks came up with too many of their own ideas. The actors don’t embarrass themselves as they did in the prequel trilogy (I suppose this counts as a prequel too, just really close to the action of the original Episode IV), but they sure don’t stand out much in this crowd. Felicity Jones is fairly one-note as the understated leader of a ragtag offshoot of the Rebel Alliance in search of the original Death Star plans and the built-in vulnerability in the planet-destroying space station. Diego Luna is so subtle, you might forget he’s normally a pretty charismatic screen presence. Other actors are wasted, with only Mads Mikkelsen getting a plum part as a conflicted Imperial engineer. It’s not a great sign when the new droid – an acerbic malcontent named K-2S0 voiced by Alan Tudyk – is the primary scene-stealer. Furthermore, resurrecting the late Peter Cushing through CGI as one of the primary villains gives a dead-eyed Polar Express character effect. The film is markedly better in the second of its two hours and introduces some pretty spectacular stunts and set-pieces. It feels like a lived-in universe but doesn’t give much of the character-based humor so emblematic in the original epics or even in last year’s Force Awakens. After three films now involving the Death Star (and Force‘s Starkiller Base), this franchise could benefit from a new charged object.