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A rare, beautiful stasis: Steve McQueen’s Widows

December 5, 2018

Widows grabs you.  It puts you deep into the tight streets of Chicago and paints an image of struggle and poverty sandwiched against extreme wealth.  It is rare for a heist movie to work so hard at making the setting a character in itself, yet Widows isn’t a regular heist film.  Directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), Widows is a reimagining of the ‘80s British TV show of the same name.   
 
This is a heist movie.  That being said, this is a not a film of assumptions.  Through the ensemble cast, McQueen, along with Gone Girl and Sharp Objects’s Gillian Flynn, examines the engulfing desire for a new life, and how far one will go for it.  It’s a film of self-preservation and reinvention, carrying on a legacy, however one sees fit.  This is true of the eponymous widows, but also of the Darwinian jungle of Chicago, a host unto itself fighting heavy gentrification, class and racial divides, and corruption from every angle.  Through the lingering eye of McQueen, one is not just watching Chicago but breathing it, getting a true sense of the desperate need for a new way, a new life.  For the most part, racial and gender issues in America are not sensationalised or shoehorned in, but fit into the story with a genuine reality.  It’s very difficult to keep the pace going in a heist film, and Widows does suffer from this. 

 

Empire Design, Widows, 2018, Poster (cropped) 
 

 

I can honestly say that a film opening has not grabbed me like that before, almost like McQueen himself was saying ‘Yeah!  This is good cinema!  Nothing else exists but this!’.  It worked.  I was fully engaged, in that rare beautiful stasis one can find in a good book, or the perfect song.  Yet it’s the tragedy of complete control in film that this must come to an end.  The second act was good, far-fetched in places and sometimes too slow, but overall it still worked as a break before the potent and tense final 30 minutes.  Viola Davis impressed as expected, her mourning wail lasted no more than 5 seconds, yet the film was all worth it, just for that single scene of pure talent.  I wanted more from the rest of the widows in terms of story and character.  Liam Neeson also impressed, along with Davis becoming one of the most natural and believable couples in recent film.  Soundtrack wise, I can’t actually remember the music as I sit writing this, showing that the tense silence of the film worked wonders, but also that this was probably Hanz Zimmer’s easiest job in years.   
 
Somehow, Widows achieves the very different faces of belief-suspending heist and contemporary social realism.  I recommend it highly as a beautiful dichotomy of action and peace, grace and hate, black and white.  McQueen does not shove ideology in the face or propagate a false and weak ‘girl power’ ideology through the widows.  Instead, he creates a tense, pragmatic, and very human portrayal of the necessity of change, the absolute need for new life in the face of tragedy.   

 

 

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