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 “Suicide Squad”

Concerned the growing population of metahumans could become a threat to national security, government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) suggests creating a team of supervillains called Task Force X. They would be sent out on the most dangerous assignments and, if things went bad, be disavowed by the government. Initially reluctant, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is convinced when archeologist Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne) releases the ancient witch that inhabits her called Enchantress and steals top secret documents from Iran in an instant. The team is comprised of the residents of the highest security prisons because they are the worst of the worst: The assassin known as Deadshot (Will Smith), the crazy yet deadly Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), jewel thief and all around bad guy Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), pyrokinetic street gang killer El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), assassin and expert at climbing anything Slipknot (Adam Beach). The person put in charge of Task Force X is Col. Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman). By his side is a Japanese assassin known as Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Wielding a sword that traps the souls of its victims, Katana will act as Flagg’s bodyguard. Also for security, each criminal member of the squad is implanted with a micro explosive in their necks. Should they turn against the team or try to escape, their head will be blown off. If dealing with all the crazies in Task Force X isn’t enough to give Flagg nightmares, Harley Quinn’s psychotic supervillain boyfriend the Joker (Jared Leto) is looking for a way to get her back by his side. When Midway City is under attack from a super powered foe, Task Force X is deployed to retrieve a powerful person from a high rise building. Will the team of bad guys be able to stick together long enough to complete their mission? Will they all be decapitated by the explosives in their necks? Will Harley Quinn ever see the pale face and green hair of her puddin’ ever again?

“Suicide Squad” has been ripped to shreds by the real critics. It has been called dull, slipshod, overblown, overstuffed and just plain bad. One reviewer even referred to DC as the Donald Trump of blockbusters. That is harsh! Here’s the thing…I apparently didn’t see the same movie as the majority of critics as I found “Suicide Squad” to be a great deal of fun with a plot that, while at times overly convoluted and under explained, moves at a pleasant pace and filled with several characters that are appealing in various ways. In short, I really liked “Suicide Squad.”

“Short” is the word for this review as I don’t want to give anything away. There are plot points that have been kept under pretty tight wraps that I don’t want to spoil for anyone that hasn’t seen the movie yet. Let me say this much: The film has some problems in the way the story is laid out. Events near the middle don’t make a great deal of sense and there are some issues of timing, as in when some orders are given and how they relate to the big bad of the story. Maybe they were trying to keep the running time down to something reasonable at just over two hours but a bit more explanation would have helped make the story more coherent.

This will be a bit of a spoiler but I also had an issue with which members of the team don’t make it to the end of the film. One of the squad became a personal favorite as the movie progressed. He starts out as a fairly well rounded character with a backstory revealed late in the film. His worth to the team is questioned and he displays what he can do, gaining the team’s admiration. He is also pivotal to the conclusion and he gets killed. Meanwhile, another member of the team is pretty much useless and his actions lead to a second member getting the explosive in his neck set off. He doesn’t do much and is largely comic relief (and precious little of that). Perhaps one of those that don’t make it was selected to provide as much emotional punch as possible while the other is just to let the audience know there are high stakes for not following the rules. Whatever the reason, I would have liked to have seen one of these two lost squad members make it to the next film, if there is one.

While the team is led by Will Smith’s Deadshot, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is the Queen of “Suicide Squad.” Her performance mixes the crazy, silly and dangerous in roughly equal amounts. Harley is a sexpot that will kill you for ogling her despite her dressing in short-shorts and a skin-tight t-shirt. She is as deadly with her hands as with a gun or her trusty baseball bat. Always looking for a way to reconnect with the Joker, Harley is truly the wild card of Task Force X. Robbie seems to be having far more fun in her role than anyone else. While Harley’s trademark Brooklyn accent is at best fleeting, Robbie still manages to embody the best and worst aspects of the Joker’s former psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel.

The rest of the cast isn’t given much of an opportunity to shine the way Robbie is. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc gets a few good lines and a chance to be heroic while Will Smith plays more of a father-figure to both the team and the young daughter he hopes to see once again. Cara Delevingne plays her dual role as Dr. June Moone/Enchantress in two modes: Frightened and horror movie kitsch. Neither is terribly entertaining. The rest of the cast is fine. Jared Leto’s Joker is teased in the trailers as a major character but in fact is more of a bit part. His actions are pivotal to some parts of the plot but otherwise he’s just a flashy cameo.

A few words about the Joker: After Heath Ledger’s performance as the clown prince of crime in “The Dark Knight,” taking on the role of Joker for the next actor was going to be a thankless job that could only be compared unfavorably to what came before. While Leto certainly puts his own spin on the villain it can only pale in comparison to Ledger’s masterful, grounded yet clearly damaged Joker. Perhaps if he is the main villain in Ben Affleck’s solo Batman movie we’ll get a better chance to judge is green-haired lunatic. As it stands right now, the jury is still out as to whether Leto is a worthy successor.

“Suicide Squad” is rated PG-13 for disturbing behavior, action throughout, language, sequences of violence and suggestive content. All of the suggestive content involves Harley and that is all pretty mild. There are various acts of violence committed against humans and non-humans. We see one member of the squad get his head blown off by the explosive implanted in the neck. It isn’t terribly graphic but you know what happens. A couple of helicopters and fighter jets get taken down by various means. Foul language is fairly common but is no worse than the word s**t.

Perhaps I’m judging “Suicide Squad” against the last entry into the DCEU, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” I found that film to be plodding, dull and devoid of joy. By comparison, “Suicide Squad” is like a springtime meadow full of brightly colored flowers and playful puppies. It moves at a brisk pace and is a great deal of fun. It even has a couple of good guy cameos just to let us know the two films are connected. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to find the flaws as devastating as the real critics. See it yourself and make up your own mind but, despite the problems, I liked it.

“Suicide Squad” gets four stars out of five.

Three new movies open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Florence Foster Jenkins—

Pete’s Dragon—

Sausage Party—

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