Even Os­car can’t ig­nore this heist

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - MOTORING -

is a deft and pointed ex­ca­va­tion of a city and a na­tion at un­de­clared war.

Wid­ows (R16, 129 mins) Di­rected by Steve McQueen Re­viewed by Heist movies get a pretty short shrift at awards sea­son.

As with hor­rors, the peo­ple who hand out the baubles are far too quick to dis­miss any watch­able crime drama as some­how not worth tak­ing se­ri­ously.

Tell me with a straight face that Michael Mann’s Heat isn’t a bet­ter film than Babe, Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity and Il Postino. But those three all scored Best Pic­ture nom­i­na­tions in 1995, while Heat came away with noth­ing.

You’ll have to go back to 1973 and The Sting to find an Os­car­win­ning heist movie. But maybe, with crit­i­cal dar­ling Steve McQueen (Hunger, 12 Years a Slave) in the di­rec­tor’s chair, Wid­ows might be the film to break the drought. It sure would be de­served.

In present-day Chicago, an armed rob­bery goes cat­a­stroph­i­cally wrong. The four as­sailants are trapped and gunned down in a firestorm. Sur­viv­ing the dead are four tough – some deceptively so – women.

Two are moth­ers to young chil­dren. All four are strug­gling, with no le­gal way to ac­cess their hus­bands’ ill-got­ten wealth. Then, just when things couldn’t get much worse, the vic­tim of the rob­bery, an ex-gang leader now run­ning for of­fice amidst the bare-knuck­led cor­rup­tion of Chicago pol­i­tics, turns up want­ing his in­cin­er­ated $2 mil­lion re­stored.

With one month to raise the money, the women set about en­act­ing the gang’s own playbook, to take a $5 mil­lion score from an un­named mark, in a build­ing they don’t even know the lo­ca­tion of.

De­scribed like that, Wid­ows sounds like not much more than a grit­tier take on Ocean’s 8, with a gang of spunky wa¯ hine sub­vert­ing the genre while pro­vid­ing a few spills and thrills along the way.

At its most su­per­fi­cial level, Wid­ows is that film, with plenty of ac­tion and a pep­per­ing of true bru­tal­ity to speed things along. But McQueen and writer Gil­lian Flynn (Gone Girl) have much more on their minds. Wid­ows ticks the boxes of a slow-burn – per­haps too slow for some – heist movie. But it is also a deft and pointed ex­ca­va­tion of a city and a na­tion at un­de­clared war.

Race and gen­der mat­ter in this film, in a way that is far more than lib­eral-bait­ing win­dow dress­ing. There are no so­lu­tions of­fered, only the ma­tu­rity to make the con­ver­sa­tion an ex­plicit part of the nar­ra­tive.

Every char­ac­ter on screen is a well-rounded and per­fectly be­liev­able cre­ation and no one is here just for the op­tics.

But Wid­ows still func­tions at least partly as a bleak post­moral­ity tale, set in a sin­gu­larly Trumpian Amer­ica. Think of Wid­ows as a cousin to An­drew Do­minik’s Killing Them Softly, but from a per­spec­tive that is nei­ther white nor male.

Among a se­ri­ously good cast, Vi­ola Davis (Fences )is as­ton­ish­ing as boss Veron­ica, and Michelle Ro­driguez (the Fast & Fu­ri­ous fran­chise), Cyn­thia Erivo (Bad Times at the El Royale) and El­iz­abeth De­bicki (Mac­Beth) are all fine as her gang.

Daniel Kalu­uya (Get Out ) is mes­meris­ing as a so­cio­pathic en­forcer for would-be politi­cian Bryan Tyree Henry (At­lanta).

Colin Far­rell and a per­fectly pitched Robert Du­vall are the rem­nants of a Chicago dy­nasty still cling­ing to power.

Wid­ows is a mar­riage be­tween Flynn’s in­stinct for the twist and the strong fe­male lead and McQueen’s flair for the frame and vis­ual metaphor.

It has pro­duced one of the strong­est films of 2018. Ter­rif­i­cally rec­om­mended.

El­iz­abeth De­bicki is one of the wid­ows who un­der­takes a dar­ing heist.

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