UNCUT - - Contents - DA­MON WISE

Wid­ows, The Old Man And The Gun, Sorry To Bother You

Wid­ows In the five years since he won the Best Pic­ture Os­car for 12 Years A Slave, film­maker Steve McQueen has been busy adapt­ing Wid­ows – a 1980s ITV mini-se­ries from the type­writer of crime pot­boiler queen Lynda LaPlante. It is an au­da­cious left turn for a di­rec­tor whose ca­reer, up un­til this point, has en­com­passed video art, a study of hunger strik­ers, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of sex ad­dic­tion and a pi­o­neer­ing drama about Amer­i­can slav­ery. But, shock­ingly, Wid­ows ac­tu­ally works. Given a slick, post-mod­ern pol­ish by Gone Girl writer Gil­lian Flynn and shifted over­seas to con­tem­po­rary Chicago, McQueen’s film more than passes muster as crowd-pleas­ing en­ter­tain­ment, with a dry com­ment or two on mod­ern cul­ture and pol­i­tics for those who care to look for it.

Our heroine, Veron­ica Rawl­ins (Vi­ola Davis), is be­reaved af­ter her hus­band dies in a very vi­o­lent rob­bery at the start of the film. Along with Harry and his gang, some $2m is lost in the heist, a sum that brings gang boss and lo­cal politi­cian Ja­mal Man­ning (Brian Tyree Henry) call­ing at Veron­ica’s cosy up­mar­ket home. Man­ning wants his money back, so Veron­ica as­sem­bles a mot­ley col­lec­tion of gang­sters’ molls to carry out a heist planned by her late hus­band.

It re­ally is as sim­ple as that, and though the film par­al­lels Veron­ica’s crim­i­nal en­ter­prise with a sub­plot in­volv­ing Man­ning’s bid to run against the white, wealthy and equally cor­rupt ca­reer al­der­man Jack Mul­li­gan (Colin Far­rell), Wid­ows is not a film with a grand po­lit­i­cal mes­sage. In­stead, it is some­thing much more mod­est and en­joy­able, a far-fetched but still rel­a­tively real-world story of peo­ple try­ing to get by. Char­ac­ter ac­tors come and go, no­tably the great Robert Du­vall, but none up­stage the steely and sin­cere Davis, who gives a qui­etly bril­liant per­for­mance here.

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN How does a movie icon bow out th­ese days? With the haunt­ing, soul-bear­ing Lucky, Harry Dean Stanton cer­tainly raised the bar, but in The Old Man And The Gun, Robert Red­ford makes his swan­song in a more ac­ces­si­ble, tonguein-cheek fash­ion. A lit­eral tip of the hat to his hey­day as the pre­mier charm­ing rogue of the late ’60s to mid-’70s, The Old Man And The Gun of­fers a crisp, 93-minute an­ti­dote to overblown Marvel su­per­hero spec­ta­cles and weighty di­rec­tor “state­ments”.

Based on the true story of The Over The Hill Gang, a loose trio of age­ing crim­i­nals, David Low­ery’s fan­tas­ti­cally en­ter­tain­ing ca­per for­goes the back­sto­ries of his two side­kicks – no mean feat when they’re played by Tom Waits and Danny Glover – to fo­cus on the ring­leader, For­rest Tucker (Red­ford). Tucker is a gentle­man and a thief, and af­ter yet an­other suc­cess­ful bank raid, he meets and falls for the guile­less Jewel (Sissy Spacek), to whom he reck­lessly con­fesses all. In­evitably, Jewel takes it for ban­ter, set­ting the scene for a gen­tle but still sur­pris­ingly thrilling drama about a man liv­ing his life on the edge.

It says some­thing about Red­ford’s pres­ence that the sidelin­ing of the likes of Waits and Glover barely reg­is­ters, and that Casey Af­fleck’s per­for­mance as the cop on his trail feels more like a glori­fied cameo. Granted, we could per­haps have done with a lit­tle more of Spacek, a rare pres­ence in the cinema th­ese days, but The Old Man And The Gun is such a finely judged bal­ance of light nos­tal­gia and mod­ern indie smarts that it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter. There’s lots for movie buffs, who can give them­selves ex­tra brownie points for get­ting the late War­ren Oates’ guest spot; ev­ery­one else can just buckle up and en­joy the ride.

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU The shadow of Jor­dan Peele’s 2017 hor­ror break­out hit Get Out looms large over the fea­ture de­but from the fan­tas­ti­cally named Boots Ri­ley, Oak­land-based pro­ducer and rap­per turned po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist and now di­rec­tor. Which is a shame be­cause Ri­ley’s film doesn’t re­ally need the genre el­e­ments that will lead many to tie the two to­gether, and yet with­out the out­landish se­ri­o­comic cli­max – think sur­real P-Funk hor­ror/sci-fi in the vein of In­va­sion Of The Body Snatch­ers – it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that Ri­ley’s dryly witty com­edy might not have been made at all. Un­til that tip­ping point, Sorry To Bother You is a per­fectly de­cent han­gout movie. Lakeith Stan­field stars as Cas­sius Green, an

easy­go­ing African-Amer­i­can un­der­achiever whose bo­hemian bach­e­lor pad is re­vealed, in a well-ex­e­cuted sight gag, to be his un­cle’s garage. His girl­friend, Detroit (Tessa Thomp­son), is a con­cep­tual artist, and there could be a film in her ou­tra­geous art­works alone. But Cas­sius is try­ing the pay the bills, and so the film con­cerns his at­tempts to climb the lad­der at Re­galview, a mildly sin­is­ter com­pany that em­ploys him in tele­sales.

Cas­sius strug­gles at first, but once he finds his “white voice” – a tip wryly im­parted by Danny Glover, Cas­sius is on the up and up, ris­ing through the ranks and leav­ing his friends be­hind. If it were just about this, Sorry To Bother You would be a funny and in­sight­ful, if some­what car­toon­ish satire. Un­for­tu­nately, Ri­ley gets a lit­tle too am­bi­tious with his third act, bring­ing the am­bi­tious Cas­sius into con­tact with the com­pany’s oily Elon Musk-alike CEO Steve Lift (Ar­mie Ham­mer). Short of Googling the end­ing, you could never guess what hap­pens next, and though Ri­ley’s berserk imag­i­na­tion is to be ap­plauded, the chaos that en­sues writes large a more hon­est film about worker ex­ploita­tion.

AS­SAS­SI­NA­TION NA­TION If, at the out­set, it seems a bit on the nose to set a film in an ap­par­ently sleepy Amer­i­can town called Salem, them As­sas­si­na­tion Na­tion might not be your thing. How­ever, if you can get past the some­what ob­vi­ous evo­ca­tion of Arthur Miller’s The Cru­cible then you might well get be­hind this joy­fully gar­ish cy­ber-era deriva­tion, which seems to aim for ev­ery­thing that’s wrong – so­cially, po­lit­i­cally and morally – with Don­ald Trump’s Amer­ica and is all the messier for it.

The film has a sub­tle ’80s/’90s vibe, which might have some­thing to do with di­rec­tor Barry Levin­son’s son Sam be­ing at the helm, but the tone is not nos­tal­gic. In­stead, there’s a rev­er­ence for the strong fe­male char­ac­ters of that pe­riod, with Lily (Odessa Young) lead­ing a four-strong pack of high-school girls who be­come the fo­cus of the largely white, right and male small­town’s anger af­ter an un­known hacker starts to down­load and pub­lish the se­crets con­tained on Salem cit­i­zens’ smart­phones.

It feels as if we’re still in the early days when it comes to in­ter­net night­mares, and in its open­ing stages Levin­son’s film strives to evoke a cin­e­matic moral panic. How­ever, once hys­te­ria takes hold, he later proves that he has the chops to build a movie around it, stag­ing some in­cred­i­bly tense scenes as the towns­peo­ple close in on the girls. There’s a touch of the Taranti­nos, as the four girls slip into match­ing red coats of the kind worn in the stylish ’70s Delin­quent Girl Boss films from Japan, but that’s trainspot­ter stuff that doesn’t re­ally de­tract from the ac­tion. In fact, broadly speak­ing, Levin­son’s vi­sion of genre cinema is more for­ward-think­ing than not, and his next, hope­fully more de­clut­tered film, should be worth look­ing out for.

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT Lars Von Trier’s lat­est is bru­tally graphic 155-minute med­i­ta­tion on male vi­o­lence. Com­ing at the apoth­e­o­sis of the #MeToo move­ment, The

House That Jack Built was never go­ing to be warmly wel­comed. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any­thing to say; Von Trier’s seem­ingly tone-deaf in­sen­si­tiv­ity cloaks the fact this is ac­tu­ally one of his sharpest yet, a film that looks di­rectly at the ugly man­i­fest forms of toxic mas­culin­ity and skew­ers rather than cel­e­brates them.

Jack is played be Matt Dil­lon, an ar­chi­tect and en­gi­neer who moon­lights as a se­rial killer. Von Trier draws on Jef­frey Dah­mer, Ted Bundy and Ed Gein as “in­spi­ra­tion” for Jack’s grisly an­tics – as well as the di­rec­tor’s own pre­vi­ous Nym­pho­ma­niac, which painted a sim­i­larly stark pic­ture of brute misog­yny.

It all goes swim­mingly well for the first 90 min­utes, at which point Von Trier seems to lose his nerve. Here the film swerves from a bravura j’ac­cuse to a rather painful mea culpa. As Jack con­fesses all to the mys­te­ri­ous “Virge” – Bruno Ganz – The House That Jack Built be­comes a honk­ing blast of philo­soph­i­cal prog rock, with Von Trier run­ning hastily through his back cat­a­logue. It’s a shame be­cause, up to this point, the film is one of Von Trier’s best, and Dil­lon, too, is a reve­la­tion, in his finest role since the Bukowski adap­ta­tion Fac­to­tum.

The Old Man And The Gun of­fers an an­ti­dote to weighty di­rec­tor ‘state­ments’

Danny Glover, Tom Waits and Robert Red­ford in The old man and The Gun

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