“What I’ve Learnt From Men Like Your Late Husband And My Father Is That You Reap What You Sow…”
For a director who already holds widespread acclaim and critical pedigree with so few releases, even with only his fourth release, Oscar winning director, Steve McQueen, unfortunately already bears the pressure of making sure every release is made with the similar style and pedigree of the multi Academy award winning, 12 Years a Slave, back in 2013, following on from the equally impressive one-two of the Michael Fassbender led, Hunger and Shame. With Fassbender surprisingly not on the guest list for McQueen’s latest, the Brit teams up with the brilliant Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl and the recently adapted Sharp Objects, for a contemporary adaptation of Lynda La Plante’s Widows, a subverted crime thriller first brought to the small screen on ITV during the mid 1980’s and now transferred to modern day Chicago which sees Viola Davis (Fences) as the mournful Veronica Rawlins, who after the death of her husband and his thieving band of criminals, orchestrates a heist of her own alongside the widowing wives of her husband’s deceased gang in order to pay back the seething crime boss who her husband had previously ripped off. Boasting one of the most impressive ensemble casts of the year, McQueen’s latest is a expertly crafted, if slightly conventional, heist thriller, one which blends a top notch screenplay with top of their game performers and a movie proves that even when hitting particular genre conventions, some filmmakers just have the natural knack to create brilliant pieces of cinema.
As per pretty much all of McQueen’s previous work, the focus of Widows is undoubtedly on the individual players which carry Flynn’s words from paper to screen, and with a healthy abundance of depth and substance given to the film’s primarily female leading force, the storytelling begins at a perfect, precise pace, using the early dramatic set piece in which we see the criminal gang led by Liam Neeson’s (The Commuter) Harry Rawlins both enter and exit the story in dramatic fashion as a opening into the world of the wives left behind. Supported by the likes of the excellent double act of Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) and Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious), the plot is primarily seen through the eyes of the simply magnanimous Viola Davis as the headstrong and independently ferocious widower who is caught in the crossfires of Brian Tyree Henry’s (Hotel Artemis) crime boss turned political aspirer and the ominous presence of Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) as the merciless gang enforcer. Whilst McQueen understands the nature of the genre in which Widows ultimately sits, the Heat-esque crime procedural feel of the film takes cues from the work of Michael Mann by portraying the landscape of a city with obvious purpose, summed up particularly in one superb one-take tracking shot in which we see Colin Farrell’s (The Beguiled) slippery politician be driven from an area riddled with poverty and famine to another plated in excess and wealth in the space of a few, short minutes, a take which reminds everyone of the one-shot conversation between Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham in McQueen’s first feature, Hunger. Whilst the concluding act does feature a rather anticlimactic central heist and an alarming sense of rushness as the credits begin to roll, Widows is stylish cinema made by people who understand how film’s should be made for audiences after something more than your average blockbuster, and when you have this much talent on just one film set, the outcome was always going to be something rather special.
Overall Score: 8/10
“This Is Not A Place For A Priest, Father. You Shouldn’t Be Here…”
Written and directed by the excellent Drew Goddard, the mind behind the likes of Cabin in the Woods and Netflix’s first season of Daredevil, Bad Times at the El Royale bundles together an abundance of top-notch actors within the confines of a script which mixes together an Agatha Christie-esque air of neo-noir mystery with a very obvious nod to the quirky and wordy works of Quentin Tarantino. Set in the dying embers of the late 1960’s, the majority of the action takes place within the lifeless, unkempt eeriness of the titular hotel, one straddled with history and echoes of a previous life involving the rich and famous but now suffering from a lack of custom primarily due to a newly founded inactive liquor license. As soon as the film’s colourful band of characters slowly check themselves in however, the presence of the murky collection of cats including Jeff Bridge’s (Hell or High Water) Catholic Priest, Donald “Doc” O’Kelly, Dakota Johnson’s (Fifty Shades Freed) rebellious young Emily and Jon Hamm’s (Tag) travelling vacuum salesman, Seymour Sullivan, result in the mysteries of the hotel and the secrets of its’ guest’s unraveling with particularly violent and menacing ends.
Whilst Goddard has proven to be successful in the past with work which has always remained entertaining and interesting, even if at times not exactly for everyone, Bad Times at the El Royale is unfortunately the American’s first cinematic turkey, an excruciatingly overlong and plodding mess of a movie which although begins in intriguing fashion, fails to warrant almost two and a half hours worth of your time as it drags its’ way towards a finish line without any real sense of purpose or point. Whilst the film does boast a healthy selection of well-executed dialogue heavy set pieces alongside excellent central performances from the likes of Bridges and Cynthia Erivo’s wandering soul singer, Darlene Sweet, as the film crosses over the hour mark, the over-reliance on wasteful backstory and wandering narrative stretches result in a painful longing for the action to come to some sort of meaningful end. Enter Chris Hemsworth (Avengers: Infinity War), whose appearance come the ninety minute mark as a curly haired, spiritually baffling and overzealous cross between Charles Manson and Jim Morrison, meant the film then decides to go on for another excruciating forty five minutes, concluding with a soppy and rather weak attempt at humanising a particularly annoying character and then finally ending with a final gasp of saintly praise as I left my seat and headed to the exit. Whilst not totally awful, Bad Times at the El Royale is a simple case of style over substance and made me check IMDB pretty quickly to see if an editor was actually hired at all to do a decent job. On inspection, Lisa Lassek, you are in my bad books.