'WIDOWS' MOVIE REVIEW

Widows poster - imdb

Widows poster - imdb

Set in contemporary Chicago, amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
— imdb synopsis

I’ve been a fan of Steve Mc Queen’s movies since his debut feature film ‘Hunger’, a haunting vision of Irish republican hunger striker Bobby Sands. His movies are quietly powerful with assured, confident direction and emotional performances from his central leads.

With his latest movie ‘Widows’ we are drawn into the seedy world of Robbers and a political landscape that embraces this lifestyle secretly while openly admonishing it. We open onto a botched robbery where Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) a career criminal with over thirty successful years of armed robbery under his belt seemingly makes a mistake in the planning and all of the robbers are executed at the hands of a zealous swat team who decimate the group in a hail of bullets.

With a debt owed to a nefarious criminal Jamal Mannings (Brian Tyree Henry) - who also happens to be running against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) for alderman of the 19th ward, four ‘Widows’ must conspire to forge a future on their own terms and take on a heist that will free themselves from debt and perhaps a new life free from crime.

Taken as a remake of sorts to the 1983 series by Lynda La Plant, there is a lot of story strands that have to be hit in a two hour movie. You would think that this would keep the story interesting and fresh but in reality I felt it dragged at times and we lost the central premise of four women attempting to carry off a robbery with no experience. The other scenes involving political machinations felt forced even though there are some great turns by Colin Farrell and his brow beating, overbearing father played by Robert Duval. Daniel Kaluuya’s performance felt a little off neither over the top evil or clever… just well a little generic. The same could be said for Liam Neeson’s character Harry Rawlings - we never really get to know any of them. They are stock one dimensional characters. In truth there is just too many characters to juggle and have any of them feel grounded.

The subplot of Viola Davis losing her son through a police shooting lost some of its power as it wasn’t really at the centre of the movie. It is the motivator for the plot of the movie which for obvious spoiler reasons I wont say anything more suffice to say that I felt it needed to be given more weight and not have it be a precursor to a ‘twist’ that didn’t necessarily work effectively enough.

In truth the plot by screenwriter Gillian Flynn felt muddled with too many characters vying for screen time that they lost their impact. The central premise for the movie involving the four women was less impactful and relegated to snippets where you lost their character. Truly the only real character was Veronica played by Viola Davis. Trying to touch on so many themes all at once made for a disjointed viewing. We have sleazy politics, sex work, Racism, loss, remorse, revenge, regret and hope all intertwined so that very little hits home and you lose a lot of the power in those themes even though they are very relevant in today’s society.

This is not to say the movie is bad its not. It has very assured direction and the performances are all very good. I felt perhaps that one less subplot would have made for a better viewing experience and given the central premise more weight.

Overall worth watching ***1/2 out of *****

Upgrade movie review

 
Upgrade poster - imdb

Upgrade poster - imdb

 
Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called Stem.
— imdb

***Spoilers ahead***

The writer of 'Saw' Leigh Whannell slides into the director's chair after his debut movie 'Insidious: chapter 3' this time taking on a sci-fi revenge story called 'Upgrade'. Starring Logan Marshall-Green as 'Grey' a Tom Hardy look-a-like (certainly in this movie) who shuns technology and prefers the analogue more tangible world of cars and engine grease over anything 'advanced'.

When his life unexpectedly changes after he and his wife are viciously slain by 'Tech enhanced' humans Grey must turn to technology to reverse his spinal paralysis inserting an experimental chip call Stem' into his central nervous system. Together they form an unlikely allience to seek revenge against him and his wife's attackers.

Reportedly made for just over 5 Million dollars under the Blumhouse banner 'Upgrade' does make good use of its budget even though at times you can tell that the budget was a little tight for the type of story they were trying to tell. I often felt that it needed a bigger budget to fully realise the world and as a result it was lacking in some areas. That's not to say that the world isn't realised no, just not realised to its fullest potential. 

 
 

It felt like a smaller movie masquerading as something bigger and sometimes the production design suffers as a result. In the empire podcast(Embedded below) Leigh alludes to the fact that he had written a much bigger budgeted screenplay and slowly whittled it down to its current incarnation. With a budget so tight they do a great job of the physical special effects. They are at times violent and bloody and suitably macabre. The movie is well shot and the action scenes have a nice energy to them. What lets the movie down a little is the one dimensional characters - we've seen them before perhaps done better - Grey is the only character with some depth to him if only surface.

It is an action movie which tries to replicate the tech noir gritty stylings of 'Robocop' and 'The terminator'. In this regard it doesn't entirely succeed. Those movies still superior despite being made over twenty-five years ago. When the plot is so simple getting that aspect right perhaps should have been a priority. 

When Stem interacts with Grey their exchanges are fun and there is sense that not all is as it seems when 'Stem' requests that protection barriers be stripped away from its operating code. We are party to a twist that isn't quite a twist if you pay attention closely to the movie. Suffice to say that 'Stem' has other plans for Grey and they don't include being in a symbiotic relationship together.

When the finale rolls around, the tone of the movie shifts slightly to the familiar theme of being weary of technology. Perhaps we should be scared that the ghost in the machine may be looking back us waiting for a day when 'it' can take over. In a very real sense that day be sooner than we think with more advanced AI being produced daily. But that's another discussion entirely. Suffice to say that the ending of 'Upgrade' is appropriate but not entirely satisfying.

*** out of *****

Find below the Empire podcast featuring an interview with the director of 'Upgrade' Leigh Whannell.  Enjoy!