Good grief, say "hello" to the feel-bad movie of 2018.
Come to think of it, this film's director, Steve McQueen, also brought us the feel-bad movie of 2013, "12 Years a Slave." Does he need to get laid? It's rather ironic that someone named Steve McQueen should have trouble getting laid.
Anyway, "12 Years a Slave" felt necessary, so at least there was a point to making us all feel bad. We SHOULD all feel bad about something like slavery. But "Widows" could have been a slick, entertaining little genre exercise, which is what it's crying out to be, had McQueen and his writers not decided to strive for the Woketopia seal of approval. As it is, they throw in every conceivable issue even remotely related to the treatment of either minorities or women in America, whether or not they organically spring from the material. You name an unfair societal ill perpetuated by white men, and you'll find it in this movie. Though to be fair, African American men don't come off looking much better. This is a movie where all white men are corrupt politicians and all black men are gangster thugs. Meanwhile, all women are victims in some form or other -- cheated on, beaten up, exploited. I knew we were in trouble when, in an early scene, a mom, played by Jacki Weaver as a caricature of a New York mafia moll (despite the fact that we're in Chicago), encourages her daughter to prostitute herself because "women should be taken care of by men." And in the tackiest and most exploitative nod to "wokeness," the film throws in a shooting of an unarmed black youth by police. This plot isn't developed in any way, mind you. It's just a footnote tossed in to check off a politically aware box and a cheap tactic to reap the reward of our outrage without having to earn it the hard way.
And the movie is just. so. ANGRY. I get that these characters are desperate and that cracking jokes might not be their top priority. But it is possible to make a movie about desperate, humorless people without the movie itself being humorless and surly. The catch is that It takes creativity and a deft touch, which McQueen as a film maker has not yet shown evidence of having.
So why did I rate this even as high as I did? Because for all of my complaints, there is quite a bit to like about this movie. Get past its preposterous need to feel relevant and progressive, and the film making itself isn't half bad. McQueen knows how to direct action scenes, and he also knows how to build tension. And the acting throughout is very good, especially from Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, and Elizabeth Debicki. Viola Davis, who anchors the film, is fine but her character is so one note -- and such a dour one note at that -- that she's not given much opportunity to shine. The only misfire in the acting department comes from, of all people, Robert Duvall, who does his best Uncle Leo from "Seinfeld" impression.
A wildly uneven movie at best, but not a total wash.
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