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)

Oscar Watch: Destroyer

Going into the Telluride Film Festival, one storyline was the possibility of Nicole Kidman garnering Oscar buzz for two roles. In the Supporting realm, her part in Boy Erased seemed like a somewhat safe bet for attention. That film’s mixed reaction has brought her inclusion in that race as more of a question mark.

When it comes to lead Actress, Kidman stars in the crime thriller Destroyer from director Karyn Kusama. Reaction from Colorado on the picture itself is also mixed. Some reviews have compared it to the work of Michael Mann while others have criticized its confusing storyline. Yet everyone seems to agree that Kidman is terrific in an unglamorous role.

Expect Annapurna Pictures to focus all of its Academy campaign on the four-time nominee and one time winner (for 2002’s The Hours). Don’t expect much chatter for the Picture, Director, or costars Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany, Toby Kebbell, and Bradley Whitford.

Bottom line: the Boy Erased reaction lessens Kidman’s chances at a nod in Supporting Actress. The buzz about her performance in Destroyer bolsters her shot at lead.

The film opens domestically on Christmas. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Blackhat Box Office Prediction

Its reported $80 million budget represents the largest of all the four films rolling out over Martin Luther King weekend, yet Michael Mann’s cyber thriller Blackhat is likely to be the lowest opener among them. Thor himself Chris Hemsworth headlines the pic with Viola Davis in the supporting cast.

Michael Mann has been behind the camera for many hits that include The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, Collateral and Public Enemies, among others. Hemsworth is widely known for his Thor and Avengers work, but this will be a true test of his box office drawing power.

There have been no reviews released so far, which is curious. The January roll out makes me question just how confident (or not) Universal Pictures is with the project. Blackhat’s stumbling block appears to be its severe competiton. American Sniper seems poised for a big debut and Taken 3 should siphon off viewers as well in its sophomore frame.

Add that up and I look for a muted haul for Blackhat next weekend.

Blackhat opening weekend prediction: $13.6 million

For my prediction on American Sniper, click here:


For my prediction on The Wedding Ringer, click here:


For my Paddington prediction, click here:


The Last of the Mohicans: Throwback Thursday Reviews

And now for a new feature on the blog which I’ll call my Throwback Thursday reviews where I revisit an older film title or perhaps watch it for the first time and offer my thoughts. Being that I gave this new category the fancy title I did, I’ll do my best to post such reviews on that alliterated day following Wednesday and before Friday.

We begin with Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans, which I hadn’t watched since it came out 22 years ago. Since then, Mann has gone onto to direct such great films as Heat and The Insider, as well as disappointments (in my view) like Ali and Public Enemies. And of course lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis has become one of the greatest actors of his (or all) time and won two Oscars in recent years.

This was actually Day-Lewis’s follow-up feature since winning his first Best Actor Academy Award for 1989’s My Left Foot. It’s based on the James Fenimore Cooper novel and the original 1936 picture of the same name. It is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War with Day-Lewis as Hawkeye, a Caucasian raised by the Mohican Tribe. They are drawn into the British/French conflict when their friends are murdered. Circumstances dictate Nathaniel and his tribal family members escort British Major Heyward (Steven Waddington) and the two daughters (Madeline Stowe, Jodhi May) of a colonel to a fort.

Their journey becomes treacherous when the British’s Huron Tribe guide Magua (Wes Studi) betrays them. Turns out he’s working for the French – sort of. Along the way, Nathaniel and the daughter Cora, played by Stowe, fall in love and that doesn’t sit well with Major Heyward, who plans to marry her.

I must admit that I remembered very little about The Last of the Mohicans before my re-watching of it other than generally liking it over two decades ago. And, today, that statement still holds true. There is much to truly admire. First off, the picture is stunningly gorgeous from its landscapes to terrific art direction and cinematography and set design. The battle sequences are well-choreographed and often thrilling. Day-Lewis, unsurprisingly, makes for a rock solid leading man.

His performance is matched only by Studi’s, whose Magua is a fascinating character. Even though he may be the villain, we can at least understand his perspective on things and it elevates him to more than just your typical bad guy. In fact, if screenwriters Mann and Christopher Crowe had gone even further in exploring Magua’s story, Mohicans would have perhaps been better off for it. They could’ve easily filled that screen time and jettisoned the pic’s main flaw: a boring and uninspiring love story between Hawkeye and Cora.

The fault lies nowhere with either Day-Lewis or Stowe, who’s perfectly adequate in the part. It’s just that their romantic subplot is never interesting and their dialogue together is clichéd. I never fully understood why they fell for one another so quickly and passionately other than movie rules dictate that it be so.

Having said that, there’s more than enough good in Mohicans to outweigh the not so good. And if you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth a look.

*** (out of four)

And that’s my inaugural Throwback Thursday movie review, folks! Look for the next one Saturday… or, wait… how does this work again??

Movie Perfection: A Coffee Break in Heat

The coffee shop scene in Michael Mann’s brilliant 1995 crime thriller Heat will forever be remembered in film history as the first time Robert De Niro and Al Pacino shared screen time together. However, the more times you watch the picture and watch that scene, you realize it’s important for other reasons.

I described Heat as a crime thriller. More than that, it’s a movie about work and family. Specifically, it’s about people who are excellent at their chosen fields of profession and how it hinders their ability at a stable family life. You see it in Pacino’s character, Vincent Hanna, who is terrific at catching criminals and bad at holding a marriage together. You see it in De Niro’s character, Neil McCauley, who is a master thief who must sacrifice any meaningful relationships to do his job. You see it with McCauley’s crew, most notably Val Kilmer’s Chris Shiherlis who gets away at the end, but must leave his wife and young child forever in order to escape.

This all comes to a head in that coffee shop scene where Vincent and Neil casually discuss the situation they find themselves in. Vincent knows that Neil is looking to pull off one last huge score and he’s determined to not let it happen. Neil feels the same way – nothing will get in the way of him doing his job. The pair make it clear that they enjoy their careers – one tasked to stop criminals and the other being the criminal – and that they, frankly, really aren’t good at anything else. Neil and Vincent know their strengths. They’re going to keep doing what they do and lets the chips fall where they may. They both know and have known for some time that everything else besides their work must fall to the wayside, including their families and significant others.

Heat is a film about cops and robbers, but one like no other that delves deep into their psyches. We see example after example after how their thought process hurts their personal lives. At the end of the day, though, it’s something they’ve learned to accept. And the coffee shop scene illustrates that point with great dialogue that develops the richly written characters of Pacino and De Niro further.

Putting these two actors together, two of the best in American history, is reason enough for it to make movie history. It’s the amazing screenplay and willingness of director Mann to take Heat to a higher level of art than practically any “crime thriller”, though, that makes the scene Movie Perfection. And, of course, Pacino and De Niro are absolutely incredible in it.