Review / ‘Widows’ (MA) *** and a half

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Viola Davis and Liam Neeson in “Widows”.

YOU could find satisfaction in American filmmaker Steve McQueen’s thriller crime caper because of its tensions and conflicts.

Derived from three British TV mini-series by Lynda La Plante beginning in 1982, the last in 2002, its fiendishly and, therefore, enjoyably complex structure delivers significant energy. But the wise eye will look deeper and discover that McQueen has done more with it than merely telling a story that could work in any metropolis.

Setting it in Chicago, McQueen has overlaid and underpinned the drama with a collection of parables for 21st century America. Racial conflict, political corruption in an upcoming local government election, consumption both conspicuous and wasteful, family feuding, female empowerment and abuse of public office – their messages are muted but not hard to recognise.

The technical faults don’t need listing – the wise eye will possibly detect them, the less-wise eye can enjoy the drama without worrying about them. A large ensemble cast does a solid job of developing the plot across deliberate fault lines.

Viola Davis plays Ronnie, wealthy, black, widowed when a four-man caper managed by her husband Harry (Liam Neeson)all die in a shootout with the cops after a big heist. With a lifestyle to feed, Ronnie is what you might call miffed when Harry doesn’t come home with a backpack full of big bills. And that’s where the film gets its real impetus. The plot gets convoluted, the tensions begin to inflate, the pressures increase from all directions.

Ronnie has a plan, built from her knowledge that Harry never staged a heist without meticulous planning. Find Harry’s last unexecuted plan. Recruit three acolytes (played by Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Erivo) each with a reason to get even for the deaths of their husbands and foiled expectations of seven-digit wealth. Get cracking on doing what their men failed to achieve.

It’s 129 minutes of entertaining cinema, demanding careful attention to its entanglement of dramatic threads.

At all cinemas

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Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

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