Film Review: Shoplifters

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Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

15 | 2h 1min | Crime, Drama | 23 November 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★★★

Humanistic, unforced and patient dissections of relationships are the stock in trade of Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda (Our Little Sister, Like Father, Like Son) and this new entry into his canon, a Cannes Palme d’Or winner, feels like a high water mark. It is a welcome new addition to what Kore-eda has called his ‘third phase’, where he focuses in more on the nature of family in modern Japan, questioning if familial bonds have the value culture and tradition has assigned to them, and teasing out the tensions that pull at the traditional mother/father structure. Shoplifters is a film that quietly asks provocative questions, but is never lacking for charm, well-earned poignancy, and even packs in a few twists.

The titular shopfliters are an engaging bunch, in large part thanks to superb casting choices and richly-drawn character dynamics (Kore-eda is also credited as the scrptwriter) that mostly play out in a charmingly cluttered and confined space. Osamu Shibata (the great Franky Lily, who also starred in Like Father, Like Son and is superb at playing irresolute ‘scammers’) is a Tokyo-based shoplifter par excellence, who ekes out a ramshackle but not necessarily unhappy existence in a tiny surbuban bungalow with his petty criminal ‘family’ unit. This mismatched unit is made up of Osamu as the patriarch and shoplifter-in-chief, his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando, a great foil to Lily as a more down-to-earth type), sex worker Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), teen boy Shota (Jyo Kairi), and the cheeky but world-weary ‘Grandmother’ who is played with much elegance by the legendary actress Kirin Kiri. I don’t usually pay too much attention to the production design of Kore-eda’s films, being more absorbed by the character drama, but the Shibata home really is a visual treat, being small and divided up by sliding panel doors in the Japanese fashion, but seemingly half the furniture and entire walls are built out of boxes and other pieces of junk gathered up by a lifetime of shoplifting. Watching these characters literally clamber over each and sometimes literally tripping over to negotiate such a cramped space provides a lot of comedy, but the house itself speaks to their characters and their relationships: messy, thrown together, colourful. Confining such diverse characters in one space (the living room is where most of the drama occurs) means plenty of opportunity for them to rub up against each other and expose the real secrets of the heart.

After a brief opening sequence where we see how good Osamu’s shoplifting game is (he and Shota have a well-established tag-team thing going on: one distracts, the other drops items into a well-placed bag), we are introduced to the element of change that disrupts this crime unit’s life, and starts a process by which more and more of our assumptions are disrupted. On their way back from another score, Osamu and Nobuyo discover a six year old girl - Juri (Sasaki Miyu) - in a bad state left home alone, and they decide to take her back to their dwelling. Osamu and Nobuyo are morally-aware enough to know the authorities will see this as kidnapping, but the bruises on the child’s body and the fact she wets the bed are classic symptoms of abuse, and give them a sense of moral justification to their law-breaking. But this seemingly impulsive act, and the fallout from it, start piling up some intriguing questions. Osamu and Nobuyo are not abusive to the girl, Nobuyo in particular is delicate with her, but Shota thinks nothing of starting to cheerily indoctrinate her into some of the basics of shoplifting: assigning her tasks suitable for her age and size, such as pulling out the power cords of door sensors so he can boost alarmed equipment. Shota is visibly uncomfortable with the girl being assigned to him on shoplifting raids, and what we initially think is just disgruntlement at a rookie girl being introduced into the mix is soon revealed to be a growing sense unease at the life of crime the children are being groomed for, with Shota no doubt seeing echoes of his own ‘rescuing’ in Juri. It turns out he isn’t really Osamu’s son, (there are hints of this before it is made clear, such as his refusal to use the term ‘dad’) and he is at an age where he is starting to question the moral framework Osamu has sold him (“nothing in the shop has an owner yet”) as well as the narrative of his own dramatic rescue. Was he really rescued out of a sense of duty by Osamu, or was he just a new recruit? When the boy starts to screw up various shoplifting raids, is it just teen rebellion, or a subconscious desire to get caught and end this life of criminality?

What Kore-Eda slowly builds for us is a fascinatingly nuanced portrait of a ‘family’ unit that is built not on the obligations of blood ties, but more on a cost-benefit analysis. As the film progresses, we learn more and more of the transactional relationships between the adults in the bungalow, and how what looks like a traditional family unit on the surface is instead more like a lifeboat for various members of the working class who have come together because they each provide something the other needs. Grandmother, for example, is quite possibly not related to any of the other characters at all despite how they refer to her, but her generous pension serves Osamu and Nobuyo well, and she is the legal owner of the house. But just when we start considering the idea that she is being ruthlessly exploited, we are shown how Grandmother is running her own scam; she regularly visits her dead husbands family in order to pay respects at his shrine and humbly pockets a substantial sympathy check every time. Barely is she out of her in-laws house when she is dropping the smiling humble granny act and flicking through the cash in the envelope. It is one of the funnier scenes in the film, but it leads us to wonder; if even Grandmother is running a scam, what does that imply about everyone else in the house? Are Osamu and Nobuyo even married? Is Aki really their older daughter, or another refugee? We have to build this complex picture from snatches of conversation both spoken to key characters and that that goes whispered behind their backs. A good deal remains guesswork until some startling last-act revelations.

And yet, as mismatched and misanthropic as this family of crime seem, and as problematic as it is to seemingly offer children a safe home in exchange for stealing, Kore-eda shows us that they all, fundamentally, get along. Shoplifting actually takes up little of the screen-time, with breathing space being given for us to soak up the day-to-day of mealtimes, beach trips, lovemaking and meals on the porch. There is good food on the table, laughter, play, and even Osamu and Nobuyo get to rekindle a long-dormant desire for sex. Whispered fragments from Juri suggest a terrifying and unhappy life of beatings and neglect, abuses she does not have to suffer anymore in Osamu’s house. Aki’s work depresses her, but she finds moments of comfort at night with Grandmother acting as her sounding board, and seems to be the one closest to her. In one of the film’s many grace notes, Grandmother herself is seen mouthing a quiet and unheard ‘thank you’ to the cluster of her ‘relatives’ as they splash about in the waters during a beach trip. It is thanks for the act of keeping her company during what could have been a lonely old age. Does it matter if the relationship to Osamu and the others is partly transactional? That is not to say Kore-eda’s film is endorsing kidnapping and robbery, but it seems to be he is asking if we need to be honest about how much familial bonds really count for, and if a more ruthless analysis of ‘what works for me’ might actually make for a more satisfying life. Maybe families would function better if we chose them.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Film Review: Suspiria

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Director: Luca Guadagnino

18 | 2h 32min | Fantasy, Horror, Mystery | 16 November 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino's hotly-anticipated take on Dario Argento's colour-drenched 70s cult Giallo horror Suspiria runs a full hour longer than its predecessor and sports a notably different tone and set of subtexts, though the spine of the story remains identical. I can't deny Guadagnino's strange creature ( written by both him and screenwriter David Kajganich) has its moments of teeth-rattling, skin-crawling supernatural terror, and his film boasts a ghostly score from Tom Yorke and superlative (albeit muted) production design that more than adequately summons a potent mood of anxiety and dread in a wintry, Cold War-era Berlin.

As the trailers made clear, the film features some striking dance sequences that become seance-like in their mystery and intensity. Dakota Johnson does a decent job stepping into the role originally inhabited by Jessica Harper; that of young, unworldly but ambitious American dancer Susie Bannion, who manages to squeeze her way into the world-renowned Berlin dance school of one Helena Markos. Johnson makes Susie a potent physical presence, and one not entirely resistant to the growing supernatural presence she feels. Overseeing her is the sublimely vampiric figure of Tilda Swinton (probably the best thing in the film), who plays the unearthly senior dance instructor Madame Blanc. Sadly for Susie, this dance school, as it was in Argento's film, is in fact a cover for a coven of witches (who all occupy senior positions in the school), though exactly what they want with Susie, who they seem to sense as 'special', isn't clear. The dynamic between Swinton and Johnson's characters grows increasingly and intriguingly ambiguous; Blanc shifting between mothering, torturing and deceiving Susie whilst a hint of sexual tension hangs in the air.

But as impressed as I was by some of the more inventively gruesome moments Guadagnino conjures for the viewer, such as a dance piece Susie performs for Madame Blanc that (unbeknownst to Susie) causes the rebellious dancer Olga locked in the next dance hall to be mangled like a human Rubik's Cube courtesy of some weird voodoo-like enchantment, the film doesn't really justify that additional hour of running time. New Suspiria does have a lot on its mind, but the focus keeps darting about without all the pieces being connected to full effect. At times, Guadagnino's screenplay brings discourses of remakes and borrowing to the fore, the film self-reflexively commenting on its own transgressions onto the hallowed ground of a previous classic. Susie is, after all, taking the place of others dancers who have 'mysteriously vanished' from the school, and the challenging dances she is tasked to perform for Blanc are - at least at first - strictly not her own.

But then this thread seems to get dropped, to make way for a (very slow) drip feed of information about the true past history of the aged psychiatrist Dr. Josef Klemperer (bafflingly also played by Swinton, under 10 tonnes of latex), who comes in to the orbit of Susie due to his suspicions being aroused after witnessing the traumatic state of one of the dance students who had come to him for treatment. Klemperer's arc, which parallels Susie's but is packed with far less incident - never felt like it slotted into place so as to truly illuminate the goings on in the dance school (beyond more general sense that this is connected to the evils of the 20th century), even as the witchery does reach a suitably delirious crescendo by the final act, one that delivers far more on visceral thrills than it does any satisfying thematic punch. There are also infrequent mentions via TV news or newspaper headlines of the political whirlpools outside the school ground caused from by the real-life terrorism of the Badher-Meinhof group and pro-Palestinian airplane hijackings. Are these fuelling the witches' power, or vice versa?

Suspiria ultimately feels like a film with too many ideas in play, to the point where any sense of exhilaration and, dare I say it, fun, got shoved down the priority list.















Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Film Review: Won't You Be My Neighbour?

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Director: Morgan Neville

PG-13 | 1h 34min | Documentary , Biography | 9 November 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★★☆

Such are the cynical times we live in that it is easy to read the synopsis of Morgan Neville's new documentary about the legendary American public TV children's presenter Fred Rogers, and imagine that this will be a sordid tale of deception and failure. In fact, Neville's entrancing and poignant doc, which works as a great time capsule into the ramshackle world of low -budget American public service television from the 1960s onwards, suggests some people actually aren't too good to be true. Fred Rogers, who for 30-plus years hosted the now- beloved "Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood", really does seem to have been the kind, thoughtful and immensely empathetic showman that he was widely feted as being when he died in 2003.

What is interesting to parse out through Neville's collage of various modern day talking heads and archive footage of Rogers on set and in interviews, is not just how Roger's approach to children was so impactful but how that 'Gap dad' look (bright plain sweaters and high-waisted pants) masked a more cunning and self-aware operator. When it came to the children, Rogers, who defines his goal in one crucial interview as helping children “through some difficult modulations in life”, struck on a one-two punch approach of expressing sincere investment in each child's uniqueness and worth via an idiosyncratic mix of puppets and live action (with all taking place on some charmingly rickety fantasy sets) whilst exploring with shocking frankness social issues like death, loneliness, and even - and this had my jaw drop- the topic of assassination The sight of a Fred Roger's tiger sock puppet asking its female co-host what assassination means ( one show's air date coincided with the murder of Robert Kennedy) is not something I will forget easily. I clearly was missing out when it came to my children's TV, provided by the good old BBC. Rogers was in the emotional literacy game.

As much as Roger's strict Christian upbringing, safe-looking clothes and sturdy haircut made him look like a fusion of an overgrown child and a slightly lost Sunday school teacher, it is hard not to conclude that beyond appearing inoffensive he also might have been carefully exploiting his image so he looked like he was in on the gag. If you can get Saturday Night Live to parody you in a not-too-cruel fashion, you have probably done something right in terms of getting noticed. In front of a Senate Committee that was set to cut public television funds (a danger it is back in again today) Rogers was brilliantly effective despite his goofy demeanour, and is credited with helping save the budget. The guy knew what he had to do to keep his show going.

I could have done with more of a focus on Roger's childhood (there are hints of bullying) and how he reconciled his religion with the explosion of various civil rights movements in the decades following his show's establishment, particularly gay rights. One of his co-stars, a closet homosexual, recalls how Rogers fretted that an out man caught at gay bars would turn away the show's sponsors, and urged him to keep his private life hidden away. Rogers appears to have come around to his friend and co-worker's sexuality eventually, but were there any other areas where Rogers' beliefs jarred with an increasingly permissive culture? How did he explore such topics where he himself felt internally conflicted with his young audiences, and did he want to? And given how strident Rogers appears in interviews about how correct his methods are for opening children's minds up to the complex and often merciless world around them, I found myself wondering if he ever faced any well-argued pushback from educational specialists or parents, especially those who were atheists. To what extent what Rogers just giving a modern gloss to Christianity with his show, as opposed to genuinely trying to drain away the ideology so as to reach a broader audience? Did parents, and the children who later grew up after watching his show, feel bothered by this?

Regardless, Neville makes a solid case about why Rogers' impact remains so great even if the man himself remains partially concealed from us. Rogers seems in no danger any time soon of being torn from that image of red jumper-sporting kindly uncle and all-round symbol of decency. It is no wonder Tom Hanks is playing him in the upcoming biopic; Hanks, like Rogers, unceasingly seems a symbol of a world that we wish still existed. A world when things made sense because people we trusted were there to explain it patiently and with a smile.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Film Review: Wildlife

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Director: Paul Dano

12A | 1h 44min | Drama | 9 November 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★★☆

If I was to be honest, I’ve never found myself having much time for Paul Dano as an actor, but on the basis of his directorial debut Wildlife, I may have underestimated this guy’s talents. Directing from a screenplay co-written by Zoe Kazan, which is based on Richard Ford’s titular novel, Dano has put together a handsomely mounted and well-acted drama that suggest a keen eye both for composition and atmosphere, and a nose for sniffing out the right talent for the job.

Yes, Wildlife’s setting and story arc are somewhat familiar, following the well-trodden path of stories of middle class Americana-flavoured disaffection, which fall short of the Norman Rockwell-esque picture postcard image of the postwar boom when America was the undisputed world superpower and cars were built with real chrome and leather. Think Far From Heaven or Revolutionary Road if you want a comparison. Our POV character is quiet teenager Joe (Ed Oxenbould) who has just endured yet another move thanks to his Dad’s inability to hold down a job, this time to quiet town of Great Falls in Montana, a suburban neighbourhood displaying that quintessentially small-town look of empty long thoroughfares lined with brownstone diners and silver-faced ice cream parlours. But cracks soon show in the facade of this fresh start, with Joe’s frustrated and volatile father Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) soon needing to search further afield for work when his inability to stick to the rules in his caddying job lead to him being fired, his macho pride meaning he even spurns with a snort the follow-up apology and offer from a second chance from his regretful boss. 

We’ve seen characters like Jerry before, men knocked out of their patriarchal orbit and all-too aware of the watching eyes of their children. Gyllenhaal, looking much older and heavyset then I recall, is fine in this role. But it isn’t really his show, and therein lies WIldlife’s real appeal. The real star here is Carey Mulligan, who plays the (initially, a least) relentlessly chipper mother of the household, Jeanette. When Jerry, seemingly on a whim to re-assert the control he has lost, volunteers for a dollar-a-day firefighting job to help tackle a wildfire that is spreading outside the city borders (the thick smoke looms over the skyline ominously, like a reminder of the risks from the nuclear standoff), Jeanette is left alone with Joe for an open-ended period of time. With the screen fully turned over to her, Mulligan excels as a woman slowly shaking herself awake from the role she has been brought up to expect was always waiting for her: devoted wife, mother and housekeeper. The changes don’t come all at once, and what is particularly interesting is how ambiguous their affect is, on both Joe and Jeanette herself. If you were expecting a joyous explosion of merriment and liberation backed by era-specific songs, be prepared for something else. The changes in Jeanette are as frightening to her and her son as they are freeing. Because this reduced family unit doesn’t know how to process them. Feminism isn’t a household word yet, after all.

One moment Jeanette is breaking out her fancy blouse and makeup kit and pouring more drinks than is considered acceptable for one before evening time; one of several hints of the more liberated and spontaneous lifestyle she enjoyed before doing the time-time-honoured tradition of marrying and falling pregnant at just 20 (she is only 34, barely older than her teen son). The next moment she finds herself snapping at Joe over lunch in a cafeteria over his lack of worldly knowledge, as if she is now free to re-asses her relationship with this young person she produced from her womb when barely out of her teens herself and on whom she has always doted. Then there is her strange affair with a much older businessman who dangles the prospect of a job at his car dealership (Bill Camp), which then leads to an incredibly uncomfortable dinner at his stately home that sees Jeanette ping pong around between seduction, fear and shame as Joe watches stunned. Is this a desperate pursuit of security, or the search for sex on her terms? Is it just a booze-booze-added fuck you to the world that put her in a box so early on?

Gradually, Joe and Jeanette’s relationship starts to shift, to become more distant, and though he is stuck in the somewhat thankless ‘observer’ role, Ed Oxenbould does more than adequately translate over to us the growing fear in this child that his mother isn’t coming back. But the way Jeanete and Joe’s arc plays out in this film never lets us feel that she should, either, and I appreciated that. DP Diego García and production designer Akin McKenzie do a sterling job too of surrounding this fracturing family unit with a suitably lonely autumnal atmosphere, where characters are often framed isolated into little silos by door frames or the edges of walls. A good start to Dano’s career behind the camera.



Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Film Review: Widows

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Director: Steve McQueen

15 | 2h 9min | Crime , Drama , Romance | 6 November 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★★☆

Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave) trades his icily elegant arthouse-minded fare for a team-up with co-writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) to bring us Widows, a propulsive, exciting and intelligent genre piece that once again gives star Viola Davis a stage to showcase quality acting. The concept of Widows - that a group of four widowed women, whose dead husbands were all part of the same heist crew, would team up themselves to finish the last job in a desperate attempt to gain financial freedom - had me hungry for this film from the moment it was announced, being a huge fan of the sort of slickly constructed and thematically weighty urban crime sagas that Michael Mann once delivered with the likes of Heat. But credit should be given where credit is due, Widows might look like a sort of ‘female Heat’ but it actually a remake of the very popular British 80s TV series of the same name, which McQueen has admitted in interviews to being a huge fan of. But a remake of this kind now, in the #metoo era and with the financial crash still causing a major hangover, brings with it extra resonance.

I did not cast Widows, but if you had set me the task of doing so, Viola Davis would have been top of my list. She is perfect as Veronica, a downtown Chicago teacher’s union rep and the defacto leader of the quartet of widows-turned-heist crew, a role she is forced into when her career-criminal husband Harry (Liam Neeson) is killed along with his crew in the opening minutes of the film in, what must be said, a very thrilling action sequence largely shot from the back of Harry’s crew’s bullet-ridden getaway truck looking out at the mayhem behind them as they race on. Harry and Veronica enjoyed a comfortable middle class life, with Veronica seemingly knowing little about the precise details of Harry’s work (though she clearly knows he was crooked), but although Veronica has her own career, Harry’s death leaves her with an inherited ‘debt’ that has the side effect of pulling her into the murk of local city politics. The money Harry was seen boosting with his four man team in the film’s opening sequence was, in fact, the political war chest of Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry), a local crime boss turned legit alderman candidate (alderman is a sort of powerful local council figure) determined to be the Chicago 18th district’s first black representative. Despite his desire to gain the kind of power and prestige that his white opponent James McCullen (Colin Farrell) has had since his birth into one of the city’s oldest political hegemonies, Jamal is still a guy from the streets, and lets Veronica know it by busting into her house and openly threatening her to return the same amount of stolen money in one month, no matter what. Problem is, Veronica doesn’t have that kind of money, and the original cash pile burned up in Harry’s van with his body.

With the emotional and physical stakes economically assembled for us, McQueen gets the female widows team on screen swiftly; and they have to be thrown together quickly because Veronica is running out of time. Davis is immensely watchable as a woman with her back to the wall who is just too intelligent and desperate to give into panic, even as her laser focus makes her an increasingly chilly figure. Armed with Harry’s old heist job notebook and enough savings to fund a small operation out of her husband’s old hideout, Veronica recruits fellow widows Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) plus her broke babysitter Belle (Cynthia Erivo) to her ballsy attempt to plot and carry out the biggest heist Harry had started laying out in his notes. The fact Veronica’s recruitment pitch has an element of threat to it (Linda snorts that Veronica might sell their names to Manning if they refuse to sign up) is one of many signs that she is not a woman to be gotten in the way of. 

There is much else to chew on when it comes to the dynamics of the four women. Despite Belle also being black, she finds no natural ally in Veronica, who is immensely suspicious of her as she is both not the intended recruit for the getaway car driver role and not a paid-up ‘widow’. Alice is from a notably lower class than Veronica and was also caught in an abusive relationship with her husband, something that seems to rankle Veronica, who treats her dismissively and assumes she will fail any task set to her. All of the four female leads acquit themselves well, each bringing out an unexpected seam of resourcefulness or some surprising twist to their character, whether it is Rodriguez playing pleasingly against type as a world-weary pragmatist or Debicki showing flair for taking the nervy and pegged-as-white-trash Linda towards a place of growing confidence - even swagger - alongside skilfully delivering most of the few comedy beats that this otherwise grim film finds time for. What these mismatched women do have in common is both the cruel reality that their men left them little to nothing, and the ironic fact that they might benefit from no one thinking, as Veronica notes in a steely pep talk, that they have the balls to pull this off.

Watching these great actresses going about their burglary business and finding ways to get the key pieces of information they want is entertaining enough, but McQueen both surrounds them with a colourful cast of politicians, thugs and ambiguous friend/foe fence-sitters to spice things up, and laces their journey to full-blown heist crew with torn-from-the-headlines political commentary. Having Harry’s last job involved ripping off a major black political candidate means the stark reality of America’s rich-poor divide and the fallow from deeply embedded political corruption can form part of this version of Widow’s canvas quite smoothly, with enough attention given to these elements that they don’t feel like bolt-ons. Casting Colin Farrell as the outwardly slick but secretly troubled alderman shoe-in Jack Mulligan is a sensible move, as Farrell can do charmingly sleazy or sleazily charming in his sleep, but I was blown away by the chill factor radiated by rising star Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) as Jamal’s sociopathith brother and chief fixer Jatemme. Like the rest of the characters that circle the women, neither Jack nor Jatemme are reduced to the one-dimensional, with Jack being shown behind closed doors to resent his elderly politico veteran father Tom’s unabashed racism and long history of corrupt dealings which now threatens to drag his son down, whilst Jatemme is rarely seen without a book or Spanish language audio training track even when he is setting up to deliver a beat-down. 

As for the setting of Chicago city, McQueen and DP Sean Bobbit perhaps best paint for us the desperation and divide that has set into the city’s bones when they execute a bravura single-take from the POV of the front of Jack Mulligan’s car as it cruises from Manning’s ratty HQ on the south side to Jack’s sumptuous redbrick five-bedroom; a short drive in that it takes mere minutes, but one that starkly takes us across the chasm between the run-down and the well-heeled. It is the kind of city where, as Veronica starkly puts it to her rookie team, you are on your own.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.