When you see the label ‘Heist Movie’ the first thought that enters your cultural taste buds isn’t one of an aesthetically pleasing serving. They are often short on script, cinematography and are always predictable. Men are the centre of both good and evil, with little challenge or emotional connection to anything other than being able to see it end. While we’ve seen a new wave of genre films over the past 18 months, Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ for horror and James Mangold’s ‘Logan’, nothing will quite take to audience’s this fall like Steve McQueen’s latest piece ‘Widows’.
With a soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, a screenplay by Gillian Flynn and directed by Steve McQueen (he also has a screenplay and producing credit), this was always going to be celebrated. Film critics and niche movie lovers have been wishing for the release date since the trailer dropped in 2017. The films storyline wasn’t a secret and the cast were all used in the promotional material. So what makes this anything special? Why will this be nominated for Oscars come March?
One reason, Steve McQueen.
When it comes to filmmakers who automatically make the ‘Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts’ stand up and feel the hairs on the neck stand tall with glee, their aren’t many better than Mr McQueen. Maybe it has something to do with his iconic name being identical to a Hollywood legend or maybe it’s the fact that he has only given us three films which have all either been nominated for Best Picture, Palme d’Or or any other industry defining award. He simply doesn’t make a bad film. His films are rich with a style so subtle that it would only be matched with an elegance in horrific storytelling. None of his films are something you’d watch with your friends 18th birthday house party. They are bold, emotionally lustful and often macabre in a deliberate tone you can’t escape after the credits climax. His debut ‘Hunger’ included a 16 minute single cut of M. Fassbender and Liam Cunningham (or Ser Davos to everyone else , that still is one of the best pieces of acting of the 21st century. ‘Shame’ his second cinematic journey would have left almost every viewer feeling nauseous but also extremely amazed at how he can make suicide and sex addiction look so beautiful over nearly 2 hours. Then we have ‘12 Years A Slave’, which if you haven’t seen or heard of then you shouldn’t be reading this article.
Steve McQueen makes diamonds out of agony and anguish. Their isn’t anything about his films that feels cheap and the only criticism I often read about his work is, ‘where has been for the past 100 years of filmmaking?’
Widows was demanding for him, it was a risk. A genre he has never played with and on the current Hollywood and cultural discourse, isn’t popular or what the media are craving for. Although based on a book, you can see Flynn’s work throughout and for an auteur, that can often cause clash. The biggest risk was taking a complete jump from the formula that has so often worked for him. His stories are that of broken men, who we can never relate to but want to hear there stories. They are often period pieces (yes ‘Shame’ is very zeitgeist of the 2007–2012 era). While finally, he very rarely has provided a story that has more than one character development or plot. He follows the arc of the classic story of old, no twists and no change.
Without ruining Widows, I will say that their is more than one twist and that was the biggest shock of all because their is no train track heading towards them and you left so surprised by what it creates for the story that are in awe of this sense of accomplishment. Will the heist work?
Eventually you left with emotions on every aspect of the spectrum and the performance’s of both Viola Davis and Liam Neeson are both their best for many years (probably Liam’s best this millennium, if we are being honest). The score is enigmatic and often precise about, but that is a compliment. It’s use is that to bring alive an area of Chicago and a group of people so much so, that they feel like your friends or family. With this, Han’s doesn’t disappoint.
My greatest compliment always of any McQueen film will always be the cinematography and directing, of which their isn’t many better in the 21st Century. Before his major film work, his short films earned much critical acclaim and he was a Turner Award winning artist. Many of the scenes are devastatingly intriguing with crawling camera movement that makes you want to demand him to film a documentary about your own life. Their aren’t many filmmakers who can make the mundane beautiful, but whether it’s a hair salon or a warehouse, Steve McQueen again excels. My personal favourite is a short 3 minute angle of just a car, driving through Chicago while you can overhear Colin Farrell shouting in the car. It’s simplicity is key. Their is no person in shot and yet you are counting ever syllable. While it keeps you on edge and waiting for the transition into next.
This film will no doubt be up for at least a few Oscars when March comes round, not as many as ’12 Years a Slave’ but that was a golden ticket in Hollywood. Widows is smart, beautiful and thoroughly moving without ever bringing you past the point of breath. I would recommend for the lovers of anything that isn’t by Disney or James Cameron.