2 ½ (out of 4)
Steve McQueen requires no introduction. The man can lay claim to the most heartrending and meritorious Best Picture winner of the decade and his abbreviated filmography has thus far been spotless. After a few years toiling away at HBO, McQueen returns to cinema with his dramatic heist film Widows, doubtless his most accessible release yet.
On paper the film appears to be an unmistakable masterwork in the making and an effortless triumph for McQueen. Apart from plenty of prestige and the pertinent subjects of female empowerment and political cynicism, the cast of Widows is a distinguished list of players. Just with Viola Davis in the lead – which is to not mention Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez and Jacki Weaver supporting – this appeared, from afar, to be not only a shoo-in for Academy buzz but destined for the higher honor of copious praise among the year's finest. Disappointment can be as hard to shake as exaggerated expectations following such as monumental career, yet Widows, for all its relative inadequacies, is one of the stronger releases in a very weak holiday lineup.
You want to love it – the premise compels curiosity, the direction is fully realized and the performances are more than serviceable. But it's difficult to deny how disenchanting Widows ultimately is. Hunger, Shame and, most decisively, 12 Years a Slave were all stories bearing urgency and purpose in their telling – the formal integrity merely sealed their potency. Widows too is forged with cinematic intelligence on behalf of McQueen's direction but Gillian Flynn’s story, based on a 1983 British television series, can’t escape the framework of a soap opera or a sleazy paperback. No matter how fetching the feminine heist concept or how passionate the acting, the twists, buildup and even the memorable encounters with Daniel Kaluuya are stilted at minimum, and the climax is frustratingly scant. As a comeback following a try at TV, Widows is superficial enough enough to say it'd be better suited for the small screen like its derivation.
But as much as critiques come faster when the maker's résumé is most laudable, when the film works it crackles like I dearly hoped it would. Davis and everyone behind her put forth fortitude and McQueen makes the most of the film’s terse bursts of action. It's best moments may not quite compensate for its substantial weaknesses but Widows earns a positive reaction by the skin of its teeth and the preeminence of its credentials.
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