Growing up with a parent from Texas comes with certain quirks. Everything needs to be cooked in cast iron, wooden planks with cutesy quotes must adorn the kitchen corner-to-corner, and Old Yeller is required viewing. The 1957 film follows some kid without any real friends who gets a dog to fill the human-shaped hole in his heart. The next hour is boring. Nothing notable happens until the freaking end, where the dog gets sick and the kid gets some pre-Vietnam PTSD when he sends Yeller to "a big ol' pupper farm in upstate New York." Still, at least the dog is good.
Even the dog is perfectly cast in the tense 2018 heist film, Widows. Brought to the big screen by the other Steve McQueen, Widows makes the hits hard, the characters palpable, the action fast, and the local politics fun, somehow.
This film follows the women left behind after their husbands die in a botched heist. Viola Davis leads the charge as Veronica, after being slapped with the debt of her late spouse's thievery. Upon tracking down the other widows, Veronica assembles the motley crew to pull off one job and one job only. (a rare sentiment in any heist film) All around this intimate, thrilling plan, a race for Alderman of the 18th Ward - which is a real political position and not a scrapped bit from the Star Wars prequels - tears through the city of Chicago. Brian Tyree Henry and Colin Farrell are the candidates, and represent McQueen's bold yet coherent retorts of social commentary on race and class. Both actors are fantastic in their roles, but then again, who isn't in Widows?
I could write for hours on each and every character/actor in this film, and each would deserve it. Viola smolders with the intensity of an on-the-rise Hawaiian island. Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Erivo deliver engaging opposites in character on the squad, with Michelle playing up the vulnerability one faces when losing a loved one, and Cynthia shrugging off the whole thing as just another day providing for her family. Elizabeth Dubecki is perhaps the most impressive in the film, in part due to holding her own against a fearsome Viola in some of the most impassioned scenes of the year.
While it is almost required to mention just how good 'n scary Daniel Kaluuya is in this movie, I've already been beaten to the punch by real journalists with countless think-pieces trying to unravel those movingly haunting eyes. I guess I could write something up about his brow or maybe the lip quiver, but it just wouldn't be the same.
Much like Ocean's Eleven and it's captain, Steven Soderbergh, Steve McQueen has been able to shine as a director and a writer amongst an all-star cast. Unlike Ocean's Eleven, McQueen goes for substance over style, not that it doesn't have its moments of flash. What McQueen accomplishes is a world too close to our own, with cultural divides and atrocities of the modern day fitting in perfectly with the dark underbelly of this genre. Racial strife and poverty are central to the characters' drives and experiences, making the distinction that this is a one-time thing a little more understanding. Where this director has shined in constructing a living, breathing world, he has fallen slightly short on the heist itself. The climax certainly has its moments, but the execution isn't quite as clever as it might think it is. Still, that's not to say it doesn't lead to some fantastic moments of emotion and bombast.
Steve McQueen's Widows is a gnarly, wrenching film, but it can also be a lot of fun. It's a complicated balance, but the cast strikes it almost perfectly to a T. (is it T, Tee, or Tea? God help me) It's the kind of movie that even your narcoleptic uncle who keeps calling you John will stay awake for the entire 128 minutes. It's not a holiday family-feature, but its close timing to the annual Thanksgiving Political Divide might make for the perfect outing.
I give this film a soft 9 out of 10.
Joe Brueggemeyer hosts and edits The Marquee podcast with Logan, and has an unhealthy obsession with baking.