When a crew of bank robbers are killed in a shootout with police, their wives are left with their debt and must try to finish an important job.
All That’s On Screen Means Something;
Pay Close Attention.
Oddly enough, of his his four feature films, the only one I haven’t seen is the one that won him an Oscar (12 Years A Slave). And it is entirely possible that this will garner similar attention, as it is damn near a modern crime masterpiece, giving us a heist film with a very talented cast performing a great script with an excellent director at the helm. McQueen doesnt normally do “popcorn,” and even this is highbrow by those standards, but this time he has given audiences something more accessible than he can still put a definitive stamp on and call his own. It is able to hit on themes of female empowerment, racism and poverty without ever feeling cheap or preachy, sometimes using the most subtle of tactics to get its point across. When he fixes a camera to a car and provides a long take of a car ride while an aspiring politician spews anger, it isn’t just adding style points or giving us a basic visual cue to a location change. Showing said politician’s short drive from an affluent neighborhood to an impoverished one and his ignoring of the surroundings reminds us how thin the line between haves and have-nots can be in our cities. It’s an extremely effective tool and a damn good shot.
The script, co-written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn, is dynamic and robust, offering subplots and reveals and a lot of subtext to be read into. The cast takes these pages and really brings them to life, allowing for a range of performances that have great impact on the movie. Viola Davis is terrific as the protagonist, allowing herself to be both fierce and vulnerable as she stakes her claim in a man’s world. She helps us forget that on the surface, the plot is a bit silly and helps us fully invest. Daniel Kaluuya does an amazing job as a henchman/enforcer, proving to be as menacing with his gaze alone as Thanos was with that gauntlet. He is terrifying and captivating, and was easily one of my favorite things about this movie. Robert Duvall tries to steal the show as a crusty racist politician determined to exert control for as long as he can, and Bryan Tyree Henry excels as a sleazy crime boss with his own political ambitions. Even the characters without much screen time feel fully-realized, making everything feel, simply, more complete. There is something about the way McQueen’s slow burn style meshes with Flynn’s writing that I can’t put my finger on, but I hope it is not the only time they will collaborate as they seem to compliment each other very, very well.
Sean Bobbitt, who has been behind the lens for all of McQueen’s films, creates some distinct and striking imagery from the very opening moments all the way through the end. Hans Zimmer did what he always does, creating a brooding score that accentuates the film in the right places. There is a lot going on, often more than meets the eye, and the payoffs are high. This is one that I’m very glad I was able to catch on opening night (a true rarity for me) and highly recommend, as I can’t wait to see it again and pick up on more of what surely slipped past me on the first go around. McQueen has proven himself to be a talent to pay very close attention to, and I plan to do exactly that.