Toronto 2018

Widows, Guns, and Money

The Daily — Sep 12, 2018
Viola Davis in Steve McQueen’s Widows (2018)

A handful of films screening in Toronto are putting their own fresh spins on the tried-and-true heist movie formula. We begin with the anxiously awaited Widows, the first feature from British director and Turner Prize–winning artist Steve McQueen since his 12 Years a Slave won the best picture Oscar in 2013. Cowritten with crime novelist Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects), Widows follows an ad hoc team of four Chicago women led by Viola Davis who aim to complete a job their husbands died trying to pull off. They have no choice. A local criminal with political aspirations has given them one month to come up with the two million dollars lost with their husbands during the botched heist.

At the Daily Beast, Cineaste editor Richard Porton finds that the screenplay “occasionally bites off more than it can chew,” but Widows, “as might be expected from a director known for tackling somber topics such as sex addiction (Shame), Irish radical Bobby Sands’s hunger strike (Hunger) and, of course, slavery, is infinitely more ambitious than the usual genre exercise.” Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov notes that McQueen “retains his signature formal tics (one character spends as much time running in Steadicam shots as Michael Fassbender did in Shame) but cuts much faster in a film that (unsurprisingly, based as it is on a six-episode 1983 BBC miniseries) feels like one season of TV crammed into 130 minutes.” At Slant, Jake Cole also quibbles with a few stylistic choices, but argues that Widows is nonetheless “McQueen’s most fascinating, bracing feature to date, a demonstration of the filmmaker embracing his commercial instincts instead of trying to pass them off as weighty and important.”

Just about every member of the crowded cast comes in for praise, especially Davis, who displays “an effortless ability to fiercely command any scene that she’s in,” as the Guardian’s Benjamin Lee observes. Lee also admires the work of fellow team members Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo, but he singles out Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya, who “brings toxic menace” as “a man hot on their heels,” and adds that there are also “small, impactful roles” for Colin Farrell, Carrie Coon, Jon Bernthal, Lukas Haas, and Robert Duvall. The Los Angeles TimesJustin Chang argues that, in Widows, “diversity isn’t an opportunity for showy tokenism or liberal pieties. It’s a matter-of-fact reflection of a city’s seething internal dynamics, an opportunity to probe inequities of race, class, and gender that few American movies, let alone American genre movies, ever attempt to address.”

In David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun, Robert Redford turns in what he claims will be his last on-screen performance as Forrest Tucker, a real-life career criminal who led the Over the Hill Gang—Danny Glover and Tom Waits play his two partners—in a string of low-key, almost gentlemanly bank robberies. “Watching Tucker smoothly, politely knock off a bank in the film’s opening minutes, we don’t ever forget that we’re really just seeing Redford, twinkle in his eye and pep in his step, be Redford,” writes the A.V. Club’s A. A. Dowd. “But that’s the whole point of a movie like The Old Man & the Gun: Lowery, whose worship of 1970s cinema borders on fetish, has made a requiem for a career and an era, allowing his star to say goodbye to the desperados of his New Hollywood past.”

Writing for Cinema Scope, Robert Koehler agrees that the film “triggers a memory reel of many past Redford performances, especially his winning antiheroes.” Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Hot Rock, and The Sting spring to Koehler’s mind. “Redford has a special grasp of crime comedy, one of the trickiest and most rewarding of genres, and he brings fifty-plus years of work to one thoughtful scene after another in The Old Man.

With The Fall of the American Empire, Denys Arcand completes a thematic trilogy that began with The Decline of the American Empire (1986), a talky comedy about sex and social decay, and The Barbarian Invasions (2003), which tackled generational conflict in the wake of 9/11. According to IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, the new film “finds the seventy-seven-year-old Canadian legend turning his attention to the greatest moral catastrophe of our time: money.” The result is “not stylized enough to thrill as a heist movie, nor serious enough to hold together as a furious condemnation of capitalism—but the performances are so pleasant that it’s easy to forgive this romp for those compromises.” Alexandre Landry plays a well-meaning courier who stumbles upon the aftermath of a robbery-turned-shootout that leaves him the only one capable of fleeing the scene with cash-stuffed duffle bags. All he has to do is figure out a way to launder the loot. Variety’s Joe Leydon suggests that Fall “emerges as a parable about doing the wrong things for the right reasons in a world so corrupt that even would-be saints and seriously tarnished angels can profit (materially as well as spiritually) from being sinners.”

Alonso Ruizpalacios’s Museo is loosely based on an actual heist, the theft of 140 priceless Mayan artifacts from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City on Christmas Eve in 1985. The culprits, it turned out, weren’t even professionals, but rather two men in their thirties (Gael García Bernal and Leonardo Ortizgris) more or less out on a lark. When Museo premiered at the Berlinale in February, Emma Kemp, writing for Sight & Sound, called it “a free-spirited, charmingly offbeat adventure movie,” and at the Film Stage, Rory O’Connor noted that Ruizpalacios is “an obliquely political filmmaker with an eye for cinematic homage.” But Michael Sicinski, writing for Cinema Scope, argues that the director’s point, namely, that nearly every nation’s treasures “are almost without exception the stuff of loot and plunder,” gets “completely lost beneath the lunkheaded, buddy-movie shenanigans and warmed-over art heist maneuvers. . . . In short, this is the mash-up of Hudson Hawk and Les Statues meurent aussi that nobody asked for.”

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