STEVE MCQUEEN (WIDOWS)

Steve McQueen’s ‘Widows’ is a fe­male-led film that rein­vents the heist genre,

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“Widows”is­billed as a heist movie, but its show­case of fe­male strength and ini­tia­tive seems to speak di­rectly to the rein­vig­o­rated move­ment for fe­male em­pow­er­ment.

The film, set in Chicago and star­ring Os­car win­ner Vi­ola Davis, fol­lows four women left in debt by their crim­i­nal hus­bands who de­cide to turn to rob­bery to get back on their feet.

It chron­i­cles their jour­ney from wives who were pri­mar­ily sup­ported by their hus­bands but who over­come the trauma from past abuse and ne­glect to de­velop creative ways to sur­vive.

“It wasn’t any gim­mickry heist movie. It was women em­pow­er­ing them­selves in their lives and con­fronting each other and hav­ing to work to­gether,” Davis said. “What bet­ter metaphor is there for women to­day?” she added.

The women are also played by Michelle Ro­driguez, Cyn­thia Erivo and El­iz­a­beth De­bicki in a mul­ti­eth­nic cast di­rected by Bri­ton Steve McQueen, whose pow­er­ful his­tor­i­cal race drama “12 Years a Slave” won best pic­ture at the 2014 Os­cars.

“It’s a film about women, about women learn­ing who they are and be­com­ing in­de­pen­dent. It’s about em­pow­er­ment, it’s a film about cor­rup­tion and racism and vi­o­lence, and it’s a heist film,” De­bicki said.

McQueen said he was in­spired to make the film af­ter watch­ing the 1980’s Bri­tish tele­vi­sion se­ries of the same name when he was a teenager. The movie’s ar­rival at a time when women are de­mand­ing more rep­re­sen­ta­tion and re­spect in Hol­ly­wood and be­yond is mere co­in­ci­dence, he said.

“It just sort of spoke to me as a 13-year-old black boy in London,” McQueen said. There were “these four women who were be­ing sort of judged in the way that they can achieve, and judged by their ap­pear­ance rather than their char­ac­ter.”

“Widows,” which also stars Liam Nee­son, Colin Far­rell, Daniel Kalu­uya and Robert Du­vall, won strong re­views and is al­ready cre­at­ing Os­car buzz as Hol­ly­wood’s long awards sea­son gets un­der way.

“The men are fight­ing for scraps. The women are fight­ing for their souls,” said Far­rell, who plays the deeply flawed and con­flicted politi­cian Tom Mul­li­gan.

JAKE COYLE TALKS TO FILM­MAKER STEVE MCQUEEN

For one of the fore­most mak­ers of what could be called art films, “Widows,” with a script Steve McQueen penned with Gil­lian Flynn (“Gone Girl’), is an un­ex­pected turn into genre film­mak­ing. Be­fore the film, which 20th Cen­tury Fox will re­lease on Nov. 16, made its pre­miere at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Festival, McQueen spoke about the am­bi­tions be­hind “Widows.”

AP: “WIDOWS” MIGHT AP­PEAR LIKE A HEIST MOVIE, BUT THE GENRE SEEMS LIKE A MECH­A­NISM FOR A COM­PLEX IN­VES­TI­GA­TION INTO GEN­DER, RACE AND POL­I­TICS.

McQUEEN: It’s a roller coaster ride but it brings to the sur­face things that are very much there. It’s what we know. When you think of the ‘70s, you think of “Chi­na­town” and “The God­fa­ther” — I’m not com­par­ing my pic­ture to those pic­tures at all — but these were real, gritty movies within a genre, and these were the big­gest movies of their time. They brought the au­di­ence with them, as well as brought the so­phis­ti­ca­tion. They catered to the high and to the low. I don’t think there’s any high and low. I think there are just good movies and bad movies, and that’s it.

I wanted to chan­nel Chicago in all its com­plex­i­ties. Chicago is such a rich en­vi­ron­ment. The whole cross sec­tion of that po­lit­i­cal base, it all fas­ci­nated me. I’m sur­prised there aren’t much more movies made about it be­cause it’s there for the tak­ing. It’s like New York in the ‘70s. I love that won­der­ful phrase, which is very Chicagoan and which might go back to Al Capone: “I gotta guy.” It’s all about get­ting some­thing in a crafty way. “I gotta guy.” Fan­tas­tic!

The world in your films, from “Hunger” to “12 Years a Slave” to “Widows,” seems a mean and nasty place, where it takes just about killing your­self to keep your in­tegrity.

They all deal with try­ing to defy one’s en­vi­ron­ment that the char­ac­ters find them­selves in, and how do we tran­scend that en­vi­ron­ment. And right now the world is a bit of a dark place. It is a bit of a dif­fi­cult en­vi­ron­ment to ex­ist in. It takes lit­tle sparks for us to keep our head above wa­ter.

WOULD YOU HAVE WANTED YOUR NEXT FILM AF­TER “12 YEARS A SLAVE” TO COME SOONER THAN FIVE YEARS LATER?

You mustn’t for­get, I did three films in five years. I was a lit­tle bit of a fac­tory. The fact that I had this pro­ject with HBO that didn’t work out was a bit of a shame. For me, it was a big shame. I was do­ing art projects in that time as well. It was a bit of a break for sure. But I had been on a tread­mill and it was good to have that time to re­flect. It was im­posed on me, in a way, be­cause of what hap­pened at HBO. But at the same time, you em­brace the pos­si­bil­i­ties of a sit­u­a­tion.

No, it’s not. Well, it’s a stu­dio film but I could do what I wanted. When I think of stu­dio films I think of some­thing else. I don’t know what that means. Ba­si­cally, the stu­dio gave me the money to make what I wanted to make. If that makes it a stu­dio film, then so be it. I was the in­sti­ga­tor of “Widows.” The fact that they wanted to put money into it, great.

Your cam­era move­ment seems a blend of coolly ob­ser­vant and fright­en­ingly in­ti­mate. There are shots you hold and hold.

I al­ways feel like I’m a kind of Tai chi direc­tor. The en­vi­ron­ment or the lo­ca­tion has to tell me what it wants. I don’t like to put my sten­cil on any­thing. I don’t like to dic­tate be­fore I get to a sit­u­a­tion. It’s very much a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the en­vi­ron­ment, with the ac­tors, with what’s go­ing on. Then we pro­ceed in sort of trans­lat­ing the scene or the event. My dear friend Robby Muller, who passed away this year, said to me that a cam­era move should be as much ef­fort as a cat jump­ing on the ta­ble. Just enough ef­fort.

MICHELLE RODRIGUE

COLIN FAR­RELL

LIAM NEE­SON

VI­OLA DAVIS

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