Bonnies Wanted; Clydes Need Not Apply (feat. Ciara Wardlow)
Have you ever found yourself out of a job? Dead criminal husband? Recently out of prison and looking for a quick payday? Well, gather up your girlfriends and rob a bank/gala/corrupt politician’s coffers! That’s the premise that links our three films today: “Widows,” “Set It Off” and “Ocean’s Eight.” Aided by podcast favorite and Hollywood Reporter writer Ciara Wardlow, Chance and Noah break down the criminal exploits of these films’ Bonnies loudly and proudly without Clydes. They discuss everything from Steve McQueen’s harrowing long takes, the surprisingly woke treatment of lesbians in a ’90s action movie, and the troubling fact that all these movies (and many recent women ensemble movies) are directed by men.
Don’t forget to read Ciara on “Widows” here!
The joy of most heist movies is a certain lack of reality, down the smallest details. The security guard looked the wrong way at the right moment, the key card handoff was smooth as a jazzy music cue, and the investigating detective was our silent partner the whole time. Problems in such movies are just excuses to solve problems.
Steve McQueen movies (Hunger, Shame, 12 Years A Slave) don’t do breezy unreality. Problems lead to bodies and families being violently ripped apart, and audiences are left to examine the collateral suffering.
Add contemporary twist crackerjack Gillian Flynn into this mix of McQueen and the heist genre, and Widows is a very complicated movie with a simple premise: a band of Chicago thieves blunder in their most recent job and are killed having just made off with two million dollars; the wronged party gives the thieves’ widows a ticking clock to pay back the money via their own score.
McQueen’s fourth film fields an incredible cast that runs a dozen deep — Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Carrie Coon, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Cynthia Erivo — carrying four different subplots about grief for a lost child, a political family’s power-brokering legacy, how to ethically run a black-owned business, and an an impending election.
Guaranteed in a McQueen film are indelible images of characters’ emotional states, and here, he remains one of the best actors’ directors around, laying bare what we love about actors and what they alone can say with their faces when given time and space. McQueen is as interested in the way Viola Davis (as the leader of the Widows crew) postures as a criminal for the first time as he is in a far showier scene in which Daniel Kaluuya squirms watching TV like a restless little kid moments after ordering a man’s death.
In large part, Widows is utterly scintillating. It’s propulsive, artful, and crowd-pleasing all at the same time. My issues come more into play when it lands on tropes of the crime genre for cushion but still seems to thumb its nose at those tropes among all the half-sketched and melodramatic political and social intrigue. The movie, after all, ends in a kind of wish fulfillment for the new thieves. No spoilers, but there’s bonding, there’s all-too-symmetrical resolution, there are bad guys getting exactly what they deserve. So why do McQueen and Flynn force their movie to labor under the weight of conspiracy and immeasurable tragedy in tight two-hour window just to end in same predestined genre spot?
Now, these are the ramblings of someone who wanted Widows to be the best movie of 2018 and is contending with it being eminently good.
our favorite movies
Be Reel is a movie reviewing & reappraising podcast hosted by Chance Solem-Pfeifer and Noah Ballard.
Each time out, we select three movies based around a genre and call up guests ranging from submarine captains to Oscar winners. Then, we rate the movies, weighing both technical quality and entertainment.
Noah and Chance are old friends who mostly respect each other’s opinions. Even though Chance is a fool and a traitor. Find their show presented at ThePlaylist.Net and follow them on Twitter for the latest on Noah’s literary agenting and Chance’s work in the Portland arts scene.