Tag Archives: Daniel Kaluuya

TIFF18: Widows

The world didn’t need any further proof of Viola Davis’ talent or range, but director Steve McQueen is serious about his star, and he painted her the perfect sky in which to shine.

Ronnie (Davis) is devastated by the death of her husband in a robbery gone wrong. But she barely gets him buried before the guys he robbed come calling, and she’s the one on the hook for the 2 million dollars that’s missing. So she rounds up all the widows whose husbands died on that job (Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez) and takes over the family business, such as it is.

But this is not your typical heist movie. Like Scorcese’s The Departed, it’s about more than just the criminal element. While Scorcese looked at dirty cops, McQueen takes on crooked politicians, and he ably blurs the line between felon and city councilman. Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall) is the departing alderman of District 18, but after a recent heart attack, he’s vacating the spot that his family has held for generations, and his son Jack (Colin Farrell) is planning on stepping into his shoes at the next election. But strangely (to him), he’s not running unopposed. Turns out, he’s not the only willing to be corrupted for cash and kickbacks. The two worlds collide rather impressively when it’s Mulligan’s house the widows break into.

There are a thousand little details that make Widows into a truly great movie, but here are just two:

The opening scene. Liam Neeson and his gang of merry men are pulling a heist, but shit goes down. It’s frantic and violent and spectacular. But it’s intercut with almost its polar opposite: scenes of domesticity. Each man in the gang is shown at home, with his wife, widows-2018-viola-davis-liam-neesonhis kids, his little dog Olivia. Sure they’re criminals but they’re also doting dads, bill payers, lawn mowers, trash taker-outers. So you’ve got this brilliant back and forth of the two, somewhat disparate, halves of their lives. The hard and soft, the why and the how of tough jobs with lots of risk. We don’t spend much time with them, but we already know they are much than just their crimes, and when they meet their end, it’s not without sadness, a loss that is earned. And it’s also a highly effective way of introducing both theme and character. Brilliant, nimble work.

The second scene that really struck me was of Jack Mulligan (Farrell) in the back of a car. We already know his dad (Duvall) is an unapologetic racist. He rants gross inaccuracies about immigrants (even as he seems to employ them as servants in his home) and says the n-word while basically looking us in the eye. He’s not shy about it. He’s old school racist. His son is a little more savvy, but perhaps no less racist. Sure he trots out black woman business owners at his rallies, “success stories” he calls them, dismissively taking credit for their achievements. But as soon as he’s back inside the tinted-window safety of his car, he’s laying down some pretty shitty things to his poor assistant. Interestingly, the car, and thus the man inside, remain impenetrable during the scene. McQueen frames it with the car filling just a small portion of the bottom right-hand side of the screen as it drives the alderman-to-be away from the unsavouriness of his district, to the furthest border where his own palatial home is built and gated. Why would McQueen show Duvall so plainly while uttering his slurs but have Farrell hidden away? What makes Jack different? And what does it mean that the only person we make any contact with the entire time is an occasional glimpse of Jack’s black chauffeur, who Just. Keeps. Driving.

This movie is so well-made it gives me the tingles. I know I started this review singing Viola Davis her praises, but I want to end it that way too. Girl deserves her applause. She is so powerful. She can show vulnerability without making it about a lack of strength. She is commanding and flexible and she brings to this role her own kind of super power – called Strong Black Woman.

 

 

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Get Out

You all know I’m a chicken shit, so even though I was curious about Jordan Peele’s foray into the horror genre, I still stayed the hell away. So far 2017 has been a banner year for me in terms of a) Not peeing my pants in movie theatre seats and b) Not bursting the blood vessels in my eyes out of sheer panic. But…you all spoke so highly of it. You tricked me into thinking I could take it. I’m looking at you, Jane. ¬†She made me believe in myself, goddammit. Totally unwarranted!

The movie itself lulled me into complacency. Chris is a city boy and a photographer, and like many men, he refuses to own nice luggage (the duffel bag thing is creepy and played out guys). Nothing scary there. Daniel Kaluuya is a pleasant surprise in the lead role, affable if somewhat guarded. He strikes me as reasonable right from the beginning, which is nice in a horror film, which are usually filled with air heads who don’t know enough TO NOT GO INTO THE BASEMENT\WOODS\DARK ALLEY. When some vaguely racist shit happens to him (he’s black), he’s just shrugging it off, not because it doesn’t bother him, but because he knows the deal. This is typical bullshit. His (white) girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), meanwhile, gets all up in arms. Because: racism! It’s news to her! But don’t worry, she says, my parents aren’t racist at all. They’re going to love you.

They don’t love him. Dad (Bradley Whitford) goes out of his way to connect racially. It’s as awkward as you’re thinking. Mom (Catherine Keener) is uneasy, and maybe a little disapproving. Brother is overzealous. The help (the only other black people for miles) ARE FUCKING CREEPY. So yeah, big surprise, Mom and Dad are a little bit racist after all, and Rose is a little bit embarrassed, and Chris is a little bit wary. Read that as: NOT WARY ENOUGH. Even though his excellent friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) straight up warned him not to go out into suburbia. Always listen to Rod.

Chris inevitably overstays his welcome and I’ll stop there because half the fun of watching this movie is finding out how it’s going to go down. I mean, you pretty much know what’s going to happen, but you get the pleasure of seeing the twisted stuff that comes out of writer-director Jordan Peele’s mind. This whole ugly caper is a great showcase for some social commentary, and if you know Peele’s work, you know he excels at racially-based comedy. He just makes wry observations and presents them in a way we can all laugh at. Turns out he can do the same thing with horror (minus the laughing…actually, plus some laughing. Guilty laughing. Nervous laughing).

And a note about the horror: it’s not so bad. The stuff I was grumbling about up there? That happened in the first 10 minutes, and it’s probably technically not part of the horror at all. It was a dead (well, dying) deer, who was quite vocal about her displeasure. It nearly killed me. The rest was tolerable. Yes, there’s tension: loads and loads of tension (imagine meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time AND getting repeatedly attempted-murdered in one single weekend!). But Peele isn’t exactly trying to horrify you; he’s trying to unsettle you. And he’s doing that exceedingly well.

A big part of why this works is the excellent casting. The performances are solidly on-point at all times, sometimes downright impressive, but no one’s trying to overshadow anyone else. It’s oddly well-balanced for a horror film, and whatever little look-the-other-way moments a horror necessitates, Kaluuya is smooth enough to steer right through. The worst part of this movie is knowing that if Chris survives, he will be defying that age-old stereotype: the black guy dies first. But even if he manages to walk away from knife-wielding assassins, there’s no walking away from racism. That shit will follow you home.