Widows Movie Review

Like Michael Mann’s Heat over two decades ago, Steve McQueen’s Widows is a heist movie more concerned with the personalities of the people planning them. The similarities don’t stop there. It’s got a sprawling cast with many familiar faces and an overall somber tone. This is a genre marked mostly by its entertainment value. Heists are fun onscreen with the numeric Ocean’s being the highest profile recent examples.

Unlike Heat, its central planner doesn’t pull these crimes because he’s great at it and doesn’t have a personal life. Here it’s the personal lives that lead to the planning in the first place. And in this one, it’s “she’s”. Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) works for the Chicago Teachers Union and is married to career thief Harry (Liam Neeson). What I’m about to write isn’t exactly a spoiler considering the title. Harry and his crew have a job go awry and they’re all killed. Besides Veronica, the widowed women include business owner Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), abused spouse Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), and new mom Amanda (Carrie Coon).

Their mourning period is disrupted by their husband’s past illegal dealings. Windy City crime lord Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) was ripped off by them and he’s ready to collect. He’s running for an alderman spot against corrupt politico Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). Mulligan fancies himself a man of the people and lives close to the dilapidated neighborhood he wishes to represent. He might as well live on another planet. Manning wants to enter government life to get away from a life of crime, but seems to understand that they go hand in hand in this transactional and blood soaked Chicago.

Veronica, Linda, and Alice are put in a desperate spot. A clue left behind by Harry leads them to plan a robbery of Mulligan’s dirty money while trying to keep his political opponent off their backs (Amanda chooses to not to participate). Mulligan and Manning have enforcers on their team. The former’s is his controlling and ruthless father (Robert Duvall). The latter’s is his henchman (Daniel Kaluuya), who’s sadistic and seems to genuinely enjoy his works of depravity.

There are many subplots in Widows and McQueen manages to pull it off in mostly satisfying fashion. Some work better than others. The relationship of Veronica and Harry is a complicated one that’s given emotional heft by a shared loss. The same can be said for Alice’s character. She’s been a victim her whole life it seems. There’s an empowerment element with her that makes her perhaps the easiest character to root for. Rodriguez’s story has less meat on the bones. They pick up another conspirator in Belle (a memorable Cynthia Erivo), a driven woman who serves as the driver.

You’ll not be surprised to find the performances are first-rate, particularly Davis, Debicki, and Kaluuya (there’s not a mediocre one in the bunch). The score, editing, and cinematography are also noteworthy. McQueen wrote the script along with Gillian Flynn, known for her twisty works like Gone Girl. She’s created compelling female characters there and elsewhere and she does so here. If there’s an issue, it’s that her proclivity for twists reaches a tad too far with one (which I won’t spoil). I found it unnecessary and you’ll likely recognize what I’m referring to upon viewing.

And Widows is worth viewing as it gives us some characters you want to follow. There’s nothing remarkable about the heist they’re trying to pull. The acting and technical work often does fit that description.

*** (out of four)

Wind River Movie Review

For his first directorial effort, Taylor Sheridan has taken cues based on his past acclaimed screenplays to effective order in Wind River. Like his written work the year prior in Hell or High Water, this picture concerns a group of citizens who feel invisible and cut off from society in many aspects. In High Water, it was West Texas dwellers in the hot desert sun who saw the American dream pass them by. In River, it’s the inhabitants residing in sub zero temperatures on an Indian reservation in Wyoming that bears the film’s title.

As Sheridan has brought the issue of crime into both Sicario and High Water, it’s a homicide that awakens the characters sense of injustice. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a fish and wildlife officer who discovers the body of an 18-year-old girl in the frozen tundra. His job typically consists of hunting predators eating the livestock. This new discovery means he’ll assist in hunting a different form of predator. It’s young FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) who gets the call to provide federal assistance and she finds herself out of her element in the seemingly constant snowstorm elements.

Much like High Water, there are genre aspects that are familiar. What sets that movie apart and the same holds true here is a fascinating landscape to watch it in. Not every character that Lambert and Banner investigate is involved in the grisly crime, but they all seem bonded by the consequences of their far-off existence in this remote world.

It’s a pleasure to watch the talented Renner in a role that doesn’t involve assisting The Avengers or Ethan Hunt. His backstory is the emotionally charged one as his own young daughter suffered a similar fate to the victim here. There are moments where Renner reminds us of his significant dramatic abilities. Most of the other players exist to advance the plot (Olsen’s role is rather underwritten), but solid support is provided by Graham Greene as the sheriff and Gil Birmingham as the grieving father. Jon Bernthal turns up briefly as the victim’s boyfriend in a sequence that goes from sweet to horrific in a matter of seconds.

Wind River is a visually striking experience that easily proves Sheridan’s abilities behind the camera can match his writing. The West Texas residents of High Water may have been troubled and outraged by their lot in life, but they also had a sense of pride of where they came from. The people of Wind River feel the same. And our time spent with them is worthwhile.

*** (out of four)

Baby Driver Movie Review

In his filmography which includes Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Edgar Wright has shown a flair for infusing a vast music catalogue to mix with inventive action. It’s on display at the highest gear in Baby Driver. Only Quentin Tarantino rivals and probably tops this director at it. For the majority of its running time, Driver merrily coasts in its own reality (like Quentin’s projects do) and it’s often a thrill.

Despite sounding like a Dreamworks animated project where a precocious infant gets an Uber license, the title refers to Ansel Elgort’s name and profession. His job is to ferry bank robbers around and make grand escapes upon completion. This is done at the direction of criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey, oozing sarcasm and smarminess as only he can do). Baby is rarely disconnected from his ear buds. A childhood tragedy that took the life of his musician mom has left him with tinnitus or a “hum in the drum” as Doc calls it. This means he is constantly blaring a seriously cool playlist that permeates the car chases that are his occupational hazard.

It turns out Baby is not involved in his line of work on a voluntary basis. He’s ready to move on, especially after meeting lovely waitress Debora (Lily James) who’s ready to ride off into the sunset with him. Yet there’s always that last job and it involves working with thieves Bats (Jamie Foxx, who’s having a grand time) and hot and heavy and psychotic couple Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). Baby has a moral compass when it comes to his work. His coworkers don’t always share that view.

Baby Driver takes little time getting the audience accustomed to its style. Between the chases (of which are expertly handled), we get plenty of tuneful fun. Some of the tracks are meant to get Baby motivated to do his assignments. Others are meant to further the courtship of him and Debora. Elgort and James have a winning chemistry here. You want them to hit that open road into happily ever after.

Only in the last few minutes does Driver somewhat stall when it becomes less enamored with its own hyper universe and becomes a more traditional action thriller. Thankfully there’s plenty of joyful noise that precedes it.

***1/2 (out of four)

Baby Driver Box Office Prediction

A mashup of all kinds of genres which has already garnered significant critical praise, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver cruises into multiplexes a week from today. The musical action crime comedy stars Ansel Elgort (most known for The Fault in Our Stars) as the title character with a supporting cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, and Elza Gonzalez.

When Baby was birthed at the South by Southwest Festival this spring, it did so to great acclaim. The pic stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and marks another well-regarded flick from the maker of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. 

The question is how will this hot buzz translate to box office dollars? There’s plenty of competition around, but audiences could be ready for something original (especially in the midst of many sequels and reboots).

That said, Baby Driver also could perform just decently out of the gate before maintaining a seemingly inevitable cult status. Taking its Wednesday premiere into account, I’ll say a low double digits three-day roll out with a five-day in the mid teens is most likely.

Baby Driver opening weekend prediction: $10.9 million (Friday to Sunday), $15.8 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Despicable Me 3 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/06/21/despicable-me-3-box-office-prediction/

For my The House prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/06/21/the-house-box-office-prediction/

For my The Beguiled prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/06/26/the-beguiled-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Wind River

Taylor Sheridan has been quite the hot screenwriter as of late with 2015’s Sicario and last year’s Hell or High Water, for which he received an Oscar nomination in Original Screenplay. His latest is Wind River, a thriller involving a murder case at an Indian reservation. It also marks his directorial debut and its buzz from both the Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals could receive awards attention.

Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, and Jon Bernthal headline River, which rolls in stateside in August. Reviews have been solid thus far and it stands at 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. I would say it stands a fair, but not overwhelming shot at being this year’s Hell or High Water – which scored four Academy nods including Best Picture.

Wind River very likely won’t reach that number, but the possibility exists for a second straight Original Screenplay recognition for Mr. Sheridan.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Accountant Movie Review

Gavin O’Connor’s The Accountant is, on one hand, an often routine Jason Bourne style thriller with lots of decent fights. It even stars Mr. Bourne’s buddy Ben Affleck. On the other hand, Bill Dubuque’s screenplay contains some plot elements that left me shocked it was green lit. I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way. You just don’t see action flicks where the central character is an autistic math whiz who mows down bad guys everyday. Said script also comes with a generous heaping of plot holes and meandering subplots.

Affleck is Chris Wolff, suburban number cruncher by day who moonlights for criminal empires catching embezzlers for his real work. He gets paid in cash at times, but also with cool stuff like original Action Comics (appropriate for the newest Caped Crusader) and Picasso paintings. When Chris takes a seemingly legit job auditing a robotics company, he uncovers some questionable practices. Anna Kendrick is one of the business’s employees assisting him.

The myth of Chris and his exploits have caught the attention of a Treasury agent (J.K. Simmons) looking to nab him. He’s about to retire because of course he is, so he blackmails a fellow agent with a shady past (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to join his mission. Jon Bernthal is a hit man whose motivations you’ll spot from a mile away, which by the way is about the distance where Chris can hit any target.

We’re also given flashback sequences detailing the title character’s childhood. It begins in 1989 as Chris’s parents are struggling to deal with his diagnosis. Mom leaves. Dad’s solution is to toughen him up, along with their other son. His military background helps turn the boys into badasses.

Does this all sound just slightly weird? Oh it is. The Accountant is loaded with a lot of plot and much of it ends up making little sense. It’s also written with an earnestness and directed with a soberness more than it warrants. This could have worked (maybe – just maybe) if the creative forces and actors just went all in on its B movie goofy as hell material.

Our lead actor plays this about as stone-faced and humorless as he can muster. No performances really stand out among the supporting players, though John Lithgow is always a welcome sight as he plays a corporate meanie. The talented Kendrick is thoroughly wasted.

I was more bemused by The Accountant than entertained by it. I’ll give it a small amount of credit for attempting to inject something different into an otherwise ordinary genre pic. Still, like The Joker said in a franchise Affleck is now part of: Why So Serious?? You may ask that at times along with “Are You Serious?”

** (out of four)

 

The Accountant Box Office Prediction

It’s been a busy year for Mr. Ben Affleck as he made his debut as the Caped Crusader in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and will unveil his next directorial effort, the Prohibition era crime drama Live by Night, this December. And that’s not all because next weekend comes The Accountant. 

The action thriller stars Batfleck and is directed by Gavin O’Connor, who’s had a mixed filmography with critical and commercial pleasers like Miracle and Warrior. There’s also his previous effort – the Natalie Portman flop of a Western Jane Got a Gun. This will be a true test of Affleck’s star power as he’s really the sole selling point. Costars include Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, and John Lithgow.

Two Octobers back, the star had one of his largest career hits with Gone Girl, which debuted to $37 million. The Accountant will try to lure in adult moviegoers who (unlike in the summer) have had plenty of offerings to choose from, including Sully, The Magnificent Seven, Deepwater Horizon, and The Girl on the Train. While this could reach over $20 million, a debut in the high teens seems like the numbers this Accountant will manage.

The Accountant opening weekend prediction: $17.6 million

For my Kevin Hart: What Now? prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/10/05/kevin-hart-what-now-box-office-prediction/

For my Max Steel prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/10/06/max-steel-box-office-prediction/