Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Widows (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Film4 Productions and Regency

Widows  – Film Review

Cast:  Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Liam Neeson

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis: After a bank heist goes horribly wrong leading to the deaths of all the crew, their widows step up to finish what their husbands started…

Review: When as a director, you make one of the most heart-wrenching but extremely impactful pieces of cinema to come out in this decade. A film that landed you the Best Picture Oscar no less, how do you follow that up? For Steve McQueen, following on from his success with the aforementioned 12 Years A Slave, the answer is simple. You team up with another recent Oscar winner and make another exhilarating, heart-pounding piece of cinema. Namely a heist film quite unlike anything the genre has concocted before.

After a team of criminals are caught up in a heist that gets all of them killed, their widows are left in a very desperate situation. Veronica Rawlings (Davis) is the widow of the leader of the crew, Harry (Neeson). Not long after her husband’s death, she receives a rather uncomfortable visit from crime boss Jamal Manning, (Brian Tyree Henry) the target of the botched heist. Demanding repayment of the stolen money, and given a rather tight window in order to do so, Veronica has the plans for what would have been her husband’s next job. Needing her own crew to pull it off, recruits the other widows who also lost their husbands in the same heist, for a new mission to score the money that their husbands stole. Conceptually, though this may sound like your average heist film, in execution, it is a very different beast.

The screenplay, co-written by McQueen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn adds deep political subtext to this story that really gives the film a unique feel to it. Furthermore with such powerful women at the centre of this gripping story, in the era of the Me Too movement, it feels all the more powerful and relevant in modern times.  What McQueen and Flynn’s script does so excellently is give each woman involved in this daring heist a significant amount of development. Though they come from different backgrounds, each woman absolutely stands on her own two feet and all give excellent performances.

Leading the pack and fresh from her Oscar success, Viola Davis is once again superb in the role of Veronica. She is a woman who has been to hell and back again, both with events in her past and in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s demise. Yet her fiery spirit keeps her going through this turbulent time. Likewise for Alice (Debicki) and (Rodriguez), both of whom are also dealt with a torrid set of consequences in the wake of the heist that robbed them of their spouses. But with the resolute Veronica at the helm, there is no time to mope, they have some work to do.

Though the women have the spotlight absolutely deservedly on them, Daniel Kaluyya’s portrayal of Jamal’s brother, Jatamme is magnificent and absolutely terrifying in equal measure. A VERY different kind of role especially in comparison to his Oscar nominated performance in Get Out, but with every moment he has on screen, his cold demeanour and brutality is enough to send shivers down the spines of the audience. This is a man whose path you do not want to cross under any circumstances.

With the theme of powerful women front and centre, McQueen also brilliantly weaves political drama into the story. There is one moment in particular that really stands out in terms of how the scene is filmed. And by doing it this way, it really sends a startling message about modern day America and in particular modern American politics. It is another film released this year that feels very timely in terms of its themes, whilst also being not afraid to pull any punches, or to let the bullets fly.

A heist/thriller with a lot to say for itself, boosted an impeccable stellar ensemble cast and bold direction, another exhilarating addition to the filmography of Steve McQueen.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Hell or High Water (2016)

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Image is property of CBS Films, Lionsgate, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and OddLot Entertainment

Hell or High Water – Film Review

Cast:  Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges

Director: David Mackenzie

Synopsis: Two brothers (Pine and Foster) begin robbing banks in order to keep their finances afloat. However, their crimes soon come to the attention of a Texas Ranger (Bridges)  

Review: Chances are if the premise of a film that is centred on two guys who are resorting to robbing banks as a means of financial support, you’re unlikely to want to see these guys get away with their crimes and you hope that the full justice of the law catches up with them. You think the crooks are the bad guys and the law is the good guys? Well yes and no is the answer to that in the case of this enthralling crime heist movie with a modern Western vibe.

Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) are the criminals in question, brothers who have remained close even after Tanner has had some spells in prison. The pair are in severe financial trouble and so in their desperation, they hatch carefully hatched plans to rob some local banks in order to stay afloat. However their deeds unsurprisingly begin to attract unwanted attention on their part and it is up to a Texas Ranger, played wonderfully by Jeff Bridges to investigate and foil their schemes.

The script from Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote last year’s Sicario, is absolutely tremendous. The winner of the 2012 Black List, it certainly borrows elements from movies in this genre. It is hard to not see the very obvious comparisons to the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men. That being said, it certainly holds its own as an excellent and riveting piece of storytelling. Though the brothers are far from perfect human beings, one certainly being far more unlikable than the other, it does a splendid job of making you want to root for these guys even in spite of the crimes they’re committing. Even when the rozzers soon start to piece together their investigation, there is a dilemma, as to whether you want the coppers to catch them or hope that they get away and rebuild their lives.

Pine and Foster are excellent in their roles. You buy their chemistry and even though it is clear Toby has a few misgivings with Tanner, their relationship and love for each other as brothers is absolute. Pine in particular has made his name as Captain James Tiberius Kirk, but here he arguably gives the finest performance of his career. Yet more could have done to flesh out and give bones to the brothers’ back story, as it could have been touched upon in a bit more detail. Bridges, in a very similar role to his eye patch wearing, half mumbling performance as Rooster Cogburn from the 2010 remake of True Grit, brings his very unique and very funny sense of humour to his role as the Texas Ranger, even if he is a bit hard to understand in places. The back and forth between him and his partner (Gil Birmingham) certainly provides the laughter. Yet it is the leading men who undoubtedly steal the show and don’t be surprised to see potential award nods come their way.

After directing Starred Up, David Mackenzie does a tremendous job of bringing this gritty story from Sheridan’s screenplay to the big screen. The cinematography is majestic with some tremendous wide and panoramic shots of the Eastern New Mexico landscape, cleverly doubling up as Texas. These are fused brilliantly with the scenes that take place in the town. In addition, the bank robbery scenes are masterfully executed, ensuring the tension and suspense is maintained right throughout. The movie does lag in parts as it is a slow paced film, the cat and mouse chase that ensues from the first bank robbery scene combined with brilliant performances and a first rate score. All of the aforementioned elements ensure that the film stakes its claim as an awards contender as awards season starts to come into view.

Tremendous performances from Foster and Bridges, with arguably a career high from Pine, combined with a tense and superbly written script. Come hell or high water, you should definitely see this film!

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