“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
“Some People Build Fences To Keep People Out And Other People Build Fences To Keep People In…”
Before we begin, a small round of applause is needed alongside a suitable level of kudos for Viola Davis, with a win for best supporting actress at this year’s Academy Awards by no means a small, meaningless feat, and whilst most of the hype surrounding Fences has been towards its’ two leading stars in the form of Davis and Denzel Washington, who also serves up the time to act as the film’s director, the fact that these two have previous in regards to the late August Wilson’s famous play gives the cinematic adaptation at least a suitable level of credence regarding its’ existence on the big-screen, particularly after the success of the stage play both during its’ first run in the 1980’s and its’ revival in 2010 of which Davis and Washington both starred and won subsequent Tony Awards for. The big question remains however is whether Fences is the type of movie which ultimately works on the big screen after its’ success on stage, and whilst Washington’s adaptation feels like a successful larger platform for its’ leading stars to flourish, the overall execution is somewhat plodding in places, over-dramatic in parts and a movie which doesn’t exactly break the chains of its’ stage-constructed genetic code.
Whilst Davis reaps the historical element in terms of her Oscar win, which in retrospect and in my own personal opinion deserved to go to Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Washington is without doubt the powerhouse element of the movie, portraying the character of Troy Maxson in a manner both entirely delicate and masterful that the audience’s feelings towards such changes from hatred to sympathetic in the course of a few simple scene changes. A forgotten man whose regret and failures resonate on those around him, the character of Maxson is the archetypal father figure of the mid 20th century; bullish, hateful and hell bent on the outdated rule of adhering to generic gender and familial conventions, Washington is spellbinding from beginning to end. Where the film inevitably falls down is in the rather tedious elements in which it fails to disperse itself from its’ stage-based heritage, with endless, trivial moments of ludicrously over-dramatised dialogue which honestly, do not sit entirely right on the big-screen, resulting in a feeling of willingness come the end to be sat in a smoky auditorium instead, revelling in the notion of witnessing a live performance of a tale which is albeit powerful, is inherently stage-worthy.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Seriously, What The Hell Is Wrong With You People…?”
Whilst we bask in the sweltering heat of the British summer, where anything over 10 degrees celsius encourages everyone to take their tops off and bathe in layers upon layers of sun protector, there still remains the favoured few who would much rather sink into the dark, cool surroundings of the cinema and escape into the minds of filmmakers for two hours or so, away from the pain-inducing sight of the sun and away from the sweaty masses of the general public and vast displays of chest hair. Anyhow, with Batman v Superman still sitting in my mind as perhaps one of the biggest cinematic comic flops of recent years (Fantastic Four included) the DC Extended Universe rolls on and this week gives us the hotly anticipated Suicide Squad, yeah, that’s right, that film with the strange looking Joker and the one that has been plastered on every single screen for about two months continuously in some Nazi-esque propaganda fashion in order to not allow us to go without seeing some form of advertisement for at least 24 hours. With Batman v Superman still ringing through my mind like a hot poker, surely Suicide Squad is exceedingly better? Well, sort of, but not much, with Suicide Squad being a much more enjoyable experience in some sense but one that still contains a rafter of issues, some of which bear similarities to Batman v Superman and some that are brought upon itself from the latest offering of DC live-action mehness.
If you’re finely tuned into the world of comics, surely everyone is aware of the notion of the Suicide Squad in some form or the other. Although not strictly a fan of the literature form of such, I was first introduced to the team within Arrow in which we see one of the first live-action portrayals in one measly episode which gave the run-down on what the SS do and simply, how they do it. Now hitting the big time, the first major live-action display of the SS has been helmed by David Ayer, writer of the Oscar winning Training Day and director of movies such as End of Watch and Fury. So in terms of directorial choice, you would think Ayer would be the correct choice; a director attributed to dark, nihilistic action movies with a knack of not being swayed by the aspect of the twisted sense of togetherness of a team through sins of violence and crime, yet too many times through the film it felt as if we were back in the land of Zak Snyder. Limited characterisation followed by action set pieces with unbelievably cringey dialogue and a final act in which laughable CGI is meant to make the film include some sense of epic conclusion. Does it work? Not at all, yet the fault cannot be left solely at the feet of Ayer, with studio interference surely playing a part somehow. I mean a film this messy cannot be made without prodding and poking from a range of different areas, no more so than those throwing the money at it in order to see it succeed in one way or another.
So we’ve established problems with Suicide Squad that have been seen in previous DC Universe entries, yet one major problem that was extremely evident that I cannot say to have seen before is the unforgivable crass nature of the treatment of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in the movie. Although Robbie herself is one of the few saving graces of the movie, with her kooky, crazy and yet sympathetic portrayal giving the first cinematic appearance of the character some form of justice, the way in which she is portrayed and wooed upon through costume design and camera angles is downright creepy. I can understand that the fundamentals of the character within the comics is one of a femme fetale nature, but to portray her in this fashion is just wrong on so many levels. Adding to the displeasure of the film is Jared Leto’s Joker, a character in which had so much exposure over the films’ tiresome advertisement campaign and then ultimately is in the film no more than five minutes, a decision so utterly stupid giving how much anticipation there was for the character that you don’t even get a full sense of Leto’s portrayal. Because of which, the jury is out when it comes to Leto. Who knows, if we get more than 5 minutes with him next time maybe he will be the definitive Joker? Doubt it.
Overall, Suicide Squad is a slightly more enjoyable DC flick than Batman v Superman, but one that still has a wide range of problems inherent in the extended universe so far. Although Robbie is the standout, Smith also gives a good interpretation of Floyd Lawton/Deadshot, yet acting talent alone cannot prevent Suicide Squad from being yet another achingly poor showing from Warner Bros. With a soundtrack so bipolar following throughout and a sense of absence when it comes to a directorial stamping, Suicide Squad may indeed do well at the box office like its’ predecessors, but it still isn’t the film I, and probably many others, were indeed looking for. Marvel, it’s your batting next. Cumberbatch is calling.