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TIFF 2018: Viola Davis Steals Scenes (And Lots Of Money) In Widows

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Who’s Behind It

Director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave) returns to feature filmmaking after a lengthy hiatus. He also co-wrote the script with Gillian Flynn, adapting the novel by Prime Suspect creator Lynda La Plante.

Who’s In It

Viola Davis leads an impressive cast that also includes Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Duvall, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jacki Weaver.

Who’ll Love It

Crime cinema fans who can’t understand why these movies always revolve around men. Widows should also appeal to fans of procedural crime TV series that spill over into the political arena, The Wire being a prime example.

What It’s About

In a thrilling, time-bending opening, we intercut between Veronica (Davis) kissing Rawlins (Neeson) and a van fleeing from a robbery that Rawlins and his crew have executed. This culminates in a shoot-out and explosion that turns the significant others of these thieves into widows. In the aftermath, a pair of criminals (Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya) pressure Veronica to pay Rawlins’ multi-million-dollar debt. Fortunately, Rawlins left behind the plans for his next job, so Veronica decides to enlist her fellow widows to make that unrealized robbery a reality.

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Why You Should See It

Director Steve McQueen took a five-year hiatus from movies after winning the Best Picture Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, but he’s finally back with a film that revives the stylized, high stakes urgency of his earlier films. However, there is at least one key difference this time around. During his hiatus, McQueen ventured into television and he’s come out the other side embracing that medium’s plot-heavy tendencies like never before. This makes for a more traditionally crowd-pleasing McQueen movie, one that also embraces the shocking volatility of his earlier work.

Unfortunately, Widows also frequently strains credibility with irrational behaviour and unlikely plot twists. While a more focused, streamlined approach—and fewer generically toxic villains—would have made a difference, the heightened female presence is a welcome change of pace for Hollywood crime cinema.

The main attraction is Viola Davis, who delivers the film’s standout performance as Veronica, a bereaved woman struggling to overcome the wounds of her tragic past while leading a group of women in a pursuit that definitely doesn’t come naturally: armed robbery. Her efforts to get back on her feet are repeatedly derailed by male interference, but Veronica never backs down. In bringing this process to life, Davis finds the perfect balance of power and vulnerability, credibly propelling this intricate machine of a movie forward while elevating Widows above its familiar genre trappings.

When You Can See It

You can catch Widows on September 13 at 9:30 p.m. at the Princess of Wales Theatre or September 16 at 6 p.m. at the Elgin Theatre. The film opens everywhere on November 6. Check out the trailer below.