"The Flagship Film Podcast"

“The flagship film podcast” featuring in-depth reviews, top 5 lists and interviews.

"Widows" Excerpt

Adam: Back in January, when we did our Top 5 Questions of the 2018 movie year, I asked which female-led heist octet ensemble will we most want to see get away with it – "Ocean's Eight" or "Widows?" And yes, I was including in that octet, on the "Widows" side, some of the men who do populate the cast of Steve McQueen's "Widows." But this is undoubtedly a female driven film. I did not ever see "Ocean's 8," so I can't answer that question. Maybe you can give us the short answer here in just a little bit. It was certainly one of my most anticipated movies of the year overall for a variety of reasons. I think you were excited as well – certainly the pedigree of Steve McQueen, the director of "12 Years a Slave," "Shame," and my favorite film of his, "Hunger." Gillian Flynn – I know I like "Gone Girl" more than you... I think probably a lot more than you, but I was curious to see the fruits of that collaboration on the screenplay between Flynn and McQueen. And for whatever reason, we Chicagoans seem to love seeing our city depicted on screen. This movie is in every way a Chicago movie, not just in the locations. It's really about so many of the things I think we identify as prototypical Chicago, even if for some that's not from any experience actually living here – it's just from seeing Chicago as it's portrayed in the movies. This is one of those movie portrayals of Chicago, and that doesn't necessarily make it a false one. But I'm going to put you in the role here of the thief who's preparing for the heist and you have your checklist of the things that have to go right in order for this to be a success. What had to go right for "Widows" to be a success? Did you need to see some of those Steve McQueen visual directorial flourishes? Did you need to see some unconventional choices for a heist movie, or simply see a satisfying heist movie with a great central heist scene? Or maybe it was the performances you were most excited about – Viola Davis leading the cast here along with Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo. Three of them have lost their husbands in an arm robbery attempt, that we see at the very beginning of the film, that goes wrong, and the four women, despite not knowing each other previously, do come together to stage a heist of their own not really by choice so much as for survival. So, did "Widows" deliver on any of those counts? All of those counts? 

Josh: Well going in at the top of my list was Steve McQueen's presence. That was what I was most interested in. As with you, I think he's one of the most exciting working filmmakers today, and so I wanted to see what he would bring to a genre picture. I mean, none of his other movies really could be classified in that way, and I was excited to see the distinctions that he would bring. I think you get a handful of them here that we will talk about. The cast, yes, would probably be second on that list of mine, and I definitely want to talk about what we think this movie does or maybe doesn't quite do with the cast. You mentioned "Ocean's Eight," and I will say just as it was unfair to compare "Ocean's Eight" entirely through the lens of "Ocean's Eleven," though maybe a bit inevitable, it's also unfair to compare "Widows" entirely through the lens of "Ocean's Eight." 

Adam: [Laughs] I can only imagine. 

Josh: But it's interesting how they each do something better than the other. And if you added them up, we probably would have had a really good woman-driven heist film in 2018. 

Adam: Okay, do tell. 

Josh: For me, "Ocean's Eight" had a sleek efficiency. It was more of a commercial product even though "Widows" is a genre film. The plot, you mentioned that heist, that it goes off like clockwork, is that one of the things you want... You get all of those things in "Ocean's Eight." It just moves. It doesn't move as smoothly as "Ocean's Eleven," to make another comparison, but it does move and I appreciate that about it. I also appreciated the chemistry that you had in "Ocean's Eight," particularly between Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, and really the whole cast. You know they had that going – again, not as much as the guys in "Ocean's Eleven," but they had some of it. I think "Widows" is missing both of those things. Really strong cast, but I don't know if it ever gets them all on the same page. Also, the plot mechanics – and there is a ton of plot in "Widows." We were trying to just hash out, you know, after the film on our way over here to the studio, where we thought things landed just to kind of get a base of understanding for this conversation, and I don't know that we entirely did. So... 

Adam: No, I blame myself there, not McQueen or Flynn. 

Josh: Well, of course. That's why we were doing the work. We were saying, "Now did this mean this? Did that mean that?" And maybe at the end of the day this is a possibility too, because there are a lot of politics and cultural conflict going on here, maybe you could say to be generous that all those misunderstandings are on purpose because this depicts a city that is a corrupt mess. And so we're not supposed to make sense of it. OK, that's the generous reading. It was intentionally confounding, but it was [still] confounding for me. So I'm really mixed. I'm left mostly excited about a few signature touches that McQueen brings to it. Before I highlight those, let me hear what you made of it. 

Adam: Yeah I liked it a lot more than you. And it's funny, because I didn't see "Ocean's Eight," so I can't compare them at all, but surely this film has so much more on its mind, and I think it does a really good job of exploring all of those things. We may touch on a few of the specific ideas here, but already you've talked about the sense of corruption and the way that those abuses of power do find their way into every aspect of this film. No, it's not going to be these sleek, efficient kind of thrill ride that something like "Ocean's Eight" probably was trying to be, but I still found it overall to be a really tight film. What I mean is even though I can't quite piece together who exactly stole from who and who was trying to get it back or do what with it, that's only really because there's an element – there is a twist – a surprise element that is introduced about halfway through that then kind of throws everything on its head. But for the bulk of this film's running time I was never questioning what any character was after or why. And what I mean by being tight, and I would say even efficient in its own way, is I never felt like any scenes were wasted in this film. They are all about serving some aspect of the plot, or developing character, or setting up some future scene that is going to be very crucial to the plot or some aspect of the characters. And you know what I really enjoyed about it too? We can talk about this in terms of what I think the film I suppose is really ultimately about. I just like watching these people, these really smart people – and I'm not necessarily referring to them as smart in terms of their IQ or their education – but characters who know the world they live in and understand the terms of that world. We get so many scenes that are about that kind of gamesmanship, just conversations like the one we see very early in the film between Colin Farrell, who plays someone running for an alderman position that for decades was held by his father, who's played by Robert Duvall in the film. And he goes to meet his challenger for that seat – Brian Tyree Henry the actor, so good in "Atlanta" and so good here – and that banter, that back and forth between them I thought was really thrilling. I think the biggest thrills in the film actually come out of a lot of those types of conversations, whether it's between father and son, Duvall and Ferrell, or Viola Davis with any number of other people that she's talking to, as she's trying to navigate this world that she's now thrown herself into. I guess that was a little bit of a surprise for me, that I enjoyed the conversations in this film as much as any visual aspect of it. 


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