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