Review of “Widows”

A crew of armed robbers led by Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) conduct big money heists in and around Chicago. They are very good at what they do, but one night their luck runs out. A shootout in a garage with police causes an explosion of compressed gas canisters, killing Rawlings and his three accomplices. Rawlings wife Veronica (Viola Davis) is left to grieve her loss, but she also has a much bigger problem. The target of Rawlings last job was gangster turned aspiring politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). Rawlings and his crew stole $2-million and Manning wants it back to use in his campaign for a seat on the Chicago Board of Aldermen. Manning give Veronica one month to come up with the money or he’ll kill her. Manning’s opponent for the seat is Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the son of long-time alderman Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall). Jack is reluctantly following in his father’s footsteps but is just as corrupt and bigoted as him. Manning and Mulligan are in a tight race and that $2-million could be important in the final push to election day. Rawlings kept a notebook of all his jobs, including his next one that has a potential take of $5-million. Veronica recruits the widows of Harry’s crew: Linda Perelli (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki). The fourth widow Amanda Nunn (Carrie Coon) has a newborn baby and doesn’t want to be involved in the plan. Each woman has their strengths and weaknesses and Veronica is the leader despite rubbing her partners the wrong way. A fourth woman, Belle (Cynthia Erivo), who babysits for Linda and works at a hair salon that’s being shaken down by Jack Mulligan, joins the crew as a driver. The group of inexperienced robbers have just a few days left before the one-month deadline passes and must learn to work together as a team to pull off a complicated plan to save their lives.

“Widows” is a smart heist movie. It shows us almost all the parts of the plan but holds just enough back to allow for a few surprises. The film also drops personal nuggets about the main relationship in the story, between Harry and Veronica, that are mysteries at first. As the film moves along, we get explanations to these mysteries and reasons for moments of drama and sadness. Director Steve McQueen has taken what could have been a very average crime flick and turned it into a relationship drama between the four women and the ghosts of their husbands. The amazing thing is it works no matter what part of the story is the highlight at any given moment.

Viola Davis gives a masterpiece of a performance as Veronica. The grieving widow shows us flashbacks to better times with her and Harry. We also get a look at their darkest time during the loss of their son. It’s a tough and intense performance that was likely emotionally tiring for Davis. She is called upon to cry approximately a dozen times throughout the film. Veronica rarely smiles when she’s on screen. The one time she does, it looks like it takes all the strength she has. Davis is a warrior and a leader as Veronica. She isn’t always the most likable character, but her motivations are understandable. She is under the gun, literally, and has a plan in place to get Manning his money. She can’t waste time with weakness, mistakes and stupidity. Despite her own inexperience as a thief, Veronica must put on a brave face. In quiet times alone in her home, Veronica can barely get out of bed, but somehow finds the strength to lead her crew. While this may not be the kind of film that gets Oscar recognition, Davis deserves serious consideration for best actress.

The rest of the supporting cast is excellent. A standout is Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning, the brother and bloodthirsty enforcer for Jamal Manning. He has a crazy look in his eye all the time. He gets in people’s faces to intimidate them and is quick to pull the trigger. Kaluuya doesn’t have many lines in the film, but his character doesn’t need many to get his point across. A simple wave, smile and wink have the opposite of those gestures usual meanings when Kaluuya’s character uses them. He’s a bully but can also back up his threats by carrying them out. You may have loved his character in “Get Out,” but you won’t be a big fan of Jatemme Manning in “Widows.”

The story of “Widows” doesn’t stick to one topic. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker that might have been a problem; however, Steve McQueen handles the various topics in the film with an even hand and laser focus. While the heist planning and execution is the focus, the story veers into politics and the corruption Chicago is famous for. The family dynasty at risk, the kickbacks, the payoffs, the quid pro quo, all is on display in the film. Embedded in the corruption is racism and misogyny. Davis delivers a line about no one believing the women have the balls to pull off the job and she’s right. Mulligan uses a group of women business owners as a prop during a campaign appearance but doesn’t let them speak. Mulligan has a female assistant that is frequently referred to in derogatory terms or ogled like a piece of meat. A couple of the wives are used and abused by their husbands. One of the wives becomes an escort to make ends meet. While her client appears to be a decent guy that can afford to pay for her company, he winds up treating her more as an employee than a partner. It’s a movie with many messages and most of them are powerful men suck.

“Widows” is rated R for some sexual content/nudity, language throughout and violence. There is a brief sex scene that shows a man’s bare backside and a woman’s breasts. There are some bloody shootings and a scene where stabbing is used as torture. There is also a scene showing the aftermath of domestic abuse. A mother slaps her adult daughter. Foul language is common.

“Widows” doesn’t waste time trying to convince us anyone in the film is a good guy or a bad guy. The real villains wear suits and the women commit a crime to save their lives. There is no black and white in “Widows” only varying shades of grey. It’s a tense film with the looming dread of death hanging over all the characters. Who lives and dies is always in doubt. While you may question whether a group of inexperienced people could pull off such a complicated robbery, you will be thrilled by all the planning, details and the execution. It’s a fantastic film and you should see it.

“Widows” gets five stars.

The holiday weekend sees most releases opening on Wednesday. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Creed 2—

Green Book—

Ralph Breaks the Internet—

Robin Hood—

The Front Runner—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in TV, movies and streaming available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Run All Night”

No matter how good your relationship is with your parents, at some point most people have had a rough patch dealing with the authority figures in your life. Whether it was the length of your hair, your choice of friends, a perceived lack of initiative or ignoring your studies, all of us have had arguments with a mom or dad. My father thought I was lazy and he was right. I preferred watching Saturday morning cartoons and eating a giant bowl of cereal over going out to play or help with the household repairs he always seemed to be doing. While we never had an actual argument our relationship was a bit standoffish until I got my first job while in high school. I believe it was then my father saw I wasn’t lazy, just interested in different things. The fathers and sons featured in this week’s movie “Run All Night” are at different points in their relationships; but ultimately it comes down to the love and protective spirit one man has for his son that leads to a great deal of death.

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) used to be a feared hit man for mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Now the man who used to be called Gravedigger is seen as a washed up old drunk who is only kept around because of his long-time ties to Maguire. Maguire’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) is looking to expand his role in the family business by working out a deal with the Albanian mob to move heroin into the country. Shawn Maguire turns down the deal but Danny has already accepted money from the Albanians and they want it back. Mike Conlon (Joel Kinnaman) is Jimmy’s estranged son. He knows what his dad did for a living and wants nothing to do with him. Mike has a wife and two little girls with a baby boy on the way. To make ends meet, Mike drives for a limo service and tonight his passengers are the Albanian mobsters who are headed to Danny’s house to get their money. Mike is waiting outside in the limo when he hears shots and sees Danny shoot one of the Albanians in the head. The second one is dead inside Danny’s house. Danny, who knows Mike, yanks him out of the car at gunpoint and plans on killing him but after a brief struggle Mike gets away, leaving his wallet behind in the process. Danny calls his father and explains what happened who then calls Jimmy. Jimmy heads to Mike’s house and tries to talk to him about what to do next by Mike doesn’t want to hear it and tells Jimmy to leave. Meanwhile, Danny sneaks into Mike’s house just as Jimmy leaves. Danny has the gun pointed at Mike but Jimmy, who saw Danny’s car parked outside, shoots and kills him. Jimmy calls Shawn and tells him what happened. Shawn tells Jimmy they are both going to die for killing his son. Jimmy knows Shawn is paying off several cops so they can’t call the police for help. Jimmy convinces Mike to trust him for once in his life to keep him alive and try to fix the situation. Shawn is only out for revenge and brings in high-tech hit man Andrew Price (Common) at double his rate to take out Jimmy and Mike.

Once again, Liam Neeson is playing a man with a certain set of skills in “Run All Night” only this one is more used up than his “Taken” character. Unable to sleep due to the memories of all the people he’s killed, Conlon is a man haunted by all of his past, including leaving Mike and his mother many years earlier. While he did it to protect them, Conlon wishes he could have it all to do over again so maybe he could get it closer to right. Since no one gets a second chance, Jimmy must make the best of the situation. Neeson is spot on in “Run All Night.” His pain and remorse added to what is probably a fair amount of self-pity leads Jimmy to look for relief in a bottle. Neeson knows about pain and loss with the tragic death of his wife Natasha Richardson in 2009. Some of that grief must color his acting in more serious roles. Neeson’s world weary face is more than capable of conveying a sense of hopelessness and defeat. It is also able to turn on a dime to show determination and a fair amount of menace. Neeson has cornered the market in the genre of films featuring a middle-aged man still being able to kick ass and take names. While a few others have done it before (Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis to name two) none has done it better than or as believably as Neeson.

Ed Harris has the kind of intense gaze that would curdle milk. He puts it to good use in “Run All Night.” His Shawn Maguire tells the Albanians that he is a legitimate businessman who has left his gangster days behind. Considering all the armed men around him and his son in a back room counting up thousands of dollars of cash, his statement would appear to be a bit of an exaggeration. Harris is a great actor and is able to easily pull off his somewhat dual role as both a ruthless criminal and a caring friend to Jimmy and father to Danny. Jimmy and Shawn grew up together running the streets of their neighborhood and are as close as brothers. Even though Jimmy isn’t of much use to Shawn, he keeps him around and throws some money his way out of a sense of loyalty and family. Nothing can break that bond except the death of Shawn’s son. It is this event that turns both men into enemies and brings out their dangerous killer instincts. Harris is like a pressure cooker: While he appears calm on the outside, inside there is turmoil, heat and death waiting to burst forth. Harris plays the part to perfection and is able to deliver menace, hate and fear in his performance.

Joel Kinnaman is somewhat disappointing as Mike. His performance is rather one-note. Mike is constantly angry at his father even as he’s risking his life to save him. Kinnaman, who is so good in the former AMC show “The Killing” as a police detective, appears to have his hands tied as far as his performance. Kinnaman plays Mike like a spoiled brat who didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas. While I certainly understand the initial anger at his father, Mike should have come around to at least a begrudging respect for his old man. Unfortunately, every discussion they have about the past is filled with Mike’s anger over Jimmy not being there and his disgust at the things Jimmy has done. Again, some of this is understandable to a point; however, Kinnaman keeps the anger turned up to 11 for far too long. Of course, this is more of a complaint about the script than the actor; but I still thought Kinnaman was probably the weakest character.

A character I’d like to have seen more of is Det. John Harding played by Vincent D’Onofrio. D’Onofrio, who is always interesting to watch, is underutilized in the film. While the movie isn’t about him, Det. Harding does play a pivotal role and is something of an ally to Jimmy despite being on the opposite side of the law. D’Onofrio is an actor that makes you pay attention to his character. His intensity and focus draws in the audience and we hang on his every word. D’Onofrio will play King Pin on the Netflix and Marvel “Daredevil” series. Aside from the stunts, he will probably be the most interesting aspect of that show.

There are a few stylistic things about the movie that both struck my eye and struck a nerve. First, as the film moves from one scene to the next, we are given a graphic depiction of the change of location with Google Earth-like zoom outs and zoom ins of buildings. If you have vertigo or are easily made motion sick, this might trigger an episode. While the first few times were interesting, it quickly began to felt like a visual gimmick that had overstayed its welcome. Also, the movie has a strange fascination with elevated trains. Several scenes start and end on the mass transit system. We also get scene transitions that show the trains moving through the city. Again, this is alright a time or two but after that it seems like the New York transit authority must have paid the movie makers to show off the trains as much as possible. It struck me as a bit odd.

Also troubling is the level of coincidence required to start the plot in motion. The Albanians have to rent a limo that is driven by Jimmy’s son. These same Albanians are doing business with Shawn’s son. Given the number of car services in New York City, the possibility of Mike getting the job seems like a statistical stretch. I’m willing to accept lots of things in movies but this seemed like a step too far.

Of course, a movie like “Run All Night” lives and dies by the action scenes. The movie does a great job of building up tension during a scene like a car chase in downtown New York. There is also the cat and mouse aspect of the police and Common’s hit man searching an apartment building for Jimmy and Mike. “Run All Night” is full of scenes like this and that makes it a very good action movie.

“Run All Night” is rated R for Strong Violence, Language Including Sexual References, and Some Drug Use. There are numerous beatings, shootings, strangulations and stabbings in the film. Nearly all are shown clearly. There are at least two scenes showing a powder being cut with a razorblade and then snorted. The only sexual material is a couple of scenes where a character describes what he would do to another’s wife. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

Liam Neeson could be accused of making the same movie over and over again; however, there are enough differences between the “Taken” films and “Run All Night” to make that latter film unique. It takes a good look at the sacrifices fathers are willing to make for their children. It also shows how the past can come back to life in an instant to make the present difficult to navigate. While it doesn’t invent a new type of movie, “Run All Night” is able to do most of the things it attempts well and creates a world of interesting characters doing interesting things.

“Run All Night” gets four stars out of five.

As always, new films open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of them and you can check out their trailers below:

Divergent Series: Insurgent—

The Gunman—

What We Do In The Shadows—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send questions or comments to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Taken 3”

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) arrives at the apartment of his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) just after she has taken a pregnancy test and learns she is expecting. Taken by surprise by his visit, Kim doesn’t tell Bryan about the pregnancy. Later, Bryan’s ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) arrives at Bryan’s apartment and tells him of her marital problems with her current husband Stuart St. John (Dougray Scott). Lenore and Bryan kiss but Bryan tells her they shouldn’t do anything until she works out her issues with Stuart. She leaves and the next day, Stuart shows up at Bryan’s apartment. After some small talk, Stuart asks Bryan to stay away from Lenore while they work on their marriage. Bryan reluctantly agrees. The next morning, Bryan gets a text from Lenore asking him to pick up bagels as she is on her way to talk. When Bryan returns with the bagels he finds a bloody knife in the hallway and Lenore dead in his bed with a slit throat. As he’s trying to revive her, police enter with guns drawn believing Bryan has killed Lenore. Bryan manages to escape and contacts his old covert crew including Sam (Leland Orser) for help in disappearing for a while so he can figure out who killed Lenore and why he was set up. Investigating Lenore’s murder and also looking for Bryan is Inspector Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker). Dotzler and his team are aware of Bryan’s background to an extent but are unprepared for all the tactics he will use to remain free, look for the killers and protect Kim. Meanwhile, someone owes Russian mobster Oleg Malankov (Sam Spruell) a great deal of money and he’s willing to kill anyone to get it back. Somehow, all of this is connected.

“Taken 3” is about what you’d expect from the third installment of an action series. I wasn’t expecting much and I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t get much. Perhaps it’s time for Bryan Mills to find a secluded island in the middle of the ocean and move everyone he knows there to protect them. That way, they won’t be taken by anyone ever again…please.

There is so much wrong with “Taken 3” it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps it should be from the beginning with the opening credits. The best way to describe them is “jumpy.” As the image of an evening cityscape shift from picture to picture, it transitions with a bit of blurriness along with the name of the actor switching positions on the screen. Something about this style hit me wrong, putting me in a less than friendly mood to critique the movie. Even if they credits had made me feel like the king of the world, the rest of the movie would have brought me back to Earth.

While “Taken 3” is predictable with even a plot twist near the end being telegraphed from a mile away, it is also a rather confused mess. Various plot points are picked up and dropped with such speed it makes you wonder if the projector operator had switched movies. The script can’t decide who it should focus on (despite Liam Neeson’s Bryan being the obvious choice) so it uses a scattershot approach that causes the film to feel disjointed. The movie is edited in a similar fashion making the story drag on in areas where it should only visit for a moment while important bits get just a passing glance.

With a PG-13 rating “Taken 3” has to keep a tight lid on its violence and language. The filmmakers seem to have a real problem with that when it is compared to the first film of the series. “Taken,” also rated PG-13, had the feel of a much more violent, gritty movie. The action scenes felt more painful and the memory I have of the film is much more blood-soaked than is perhaps the reality. “Taken 3” is so bloodless it feels anemic. Even scenes where there should be an enormous amount of blood have little or none. One scene in particular stuck out when Bryan and another man engage in a gunfight. One of them is not wearing a shirt and is shot twice in the abdomen. The other man then sticks the barrel of his gun in the wound to try and get some information. All the while, there is no blood coming from the wounds or is visible anywhere on or around his body. While I’m not a doctor, I believe a wound in the abdomen would probably squirt blood like a fountain. The floor and both men should have been covered in blood. This may make me sound like a bloodthirsty ghoul but the reality of the situation called for some red fluid to be scattered about and it wasn’t. It makes the movie seem more like a high school play than a studio action film.

Another problem with the action is the way it is shot: Close camera, lots of edits and a shaky perspective. This is my trifecta of hate when it comes to movies and action scenes. This style is probably used to hide some things about the action such as the speed of the movements and the need to throw punches that don’t land. I can understand this but other stunt coordinators are able to simulate realistic fights that don’t require putting the camera a half inch from the actors and on a paint shaker.

While “Taken 3” is a kind of middle-aged man wish fulfillment, it often stretches credibility past the breaking point when it comes some of Bryan’s escapes from certain death. Without giving too much away, Bryan seems to be able to disappear and reappear at will. One car crash is shot in such a way that he couldn’t have escaped yet we are shown him doing just that in a flashback. While running from the police, Bryan just happens to run into a house with a trapdoor that leads to the sewers. Did he know the people in the house so he’d know the escape route is there? I don’t know as the movie doesn’t tell us. “Taken 3” also depends on many of Bryan’s plans going exactly as he expects; otherwise, he’s dead. He rarely has to improvise once he escapes the initial attempt to arrest him and even then, things always fall his way. If the moviemakers want us to care about Bryan that means we need to worry about him as well as like him. If he’s never in any serious trouble (even though we know he will probably survive to the end of the film) the audience won’t need to worry about his welfare. All heroes need to be in a certain amount of peril for us to empathize with them. While we don’t think about it from moment to moment, we are all in danger every second of our lives. Whether its crime, accidents, illness, asteroid/comet impact, other natural disasters or slipping in the tub, we all live with a certain amount of danger in our lives. Not to the extreme of the characters in the “Taken” movies but some bit of peril hangs over us every day. If Bryan isn’t tied up, beaten up, shot or otherwise imperiled, he is too much like a superhero and not enough like us.

“Taken 3” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence/action and brief strong language. There are numerous fights and shooting in the film. The most graphic is one where a thug forces Bryan’s gun into his mouth and shoots himself. While there is a great deal of broken glass and shattered furniture in the film, there is no significant amount of blood and no gore. Foul language is scattered and limited largely to “s–t.” The film doesn’t take advantage of its one ratings-allowed “F-bomb.”

“Taken 3” could be looked at as another example of how Hollywood has run out of ideas. How many ways can someone connected to Bryan Mills be “taken” and how many ways are there for him to beat up and kill a bunch of nameless thugs to rescue them. It turns out there aren’t enough to fill up the running time of a third movie. “Taken 3” lacks originality, is painfully predictable and looks like it was edited with a food processor. The script, action and plot are all weak and despite Liam Neeson’s efforts the movie is a bit of a bore.

“Taken 3” gets two stars out of five.

This week, there are best men, snipers, hackers, detectives and bears on the menu.  I’ll review at least one of these films next week.

American Sniper–

Blackhat–

Inherent Vice–

Paddingon–

The Wedding Ringer–

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send email to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.