What's Tony Thinking

At the Movies: Widows


Prompted by a most enthusiastic review in the Seattle Times, a more or less positive review in The New Yorker, and then an interview with the director on NPR’s The Newshour, we went to see Steve McQueen’s new movie, “Widows.” We had been impressed by his “Twelve Years a Slave” several years ago.

After all that advance encouragement one might wonder if we had a choice. We did, of course. But after two consecutive weekends of grand parenting, we treated ourselves to a night out.

Four women find themselves widows after their husbands are blown to smithereens while attempting a high-stakes heist. Not only are they suddenly shorn of husbands, they are promptly pursued by their husband’s creditors, a nasty lot. What to do? Follow in their husband’s footsteps, of course. Another glass ceiling broken.

Feminism with guns seems to be the stock-in-trade of McQueen’s screenplay co-author, Gillian Flynn.

The ensuing story is pretty grim. I think heist stories should be more fun than this one is. A few high-fives among the enterprising thieves. A few bad guys with buckets of paint on their heads. Think “The Italian Job” or “Oceans Eleven.”

There is a turn by Robert Duvall as a Chicago political boss, in which Duvall gives us what I took to be his version of Donald Trump. That was good. And Duvall is just one of a strong, interesting cast.

In the New Yorker review, Anthony Lane makes the observation, “If every McQueen movie, even one with a plot as propulsive as ‘Widows,’ grows oddly depressing, it’s because he sees the world as a cluster of transactions. Either we are bought outright or we sell off pieces of ourselves like strips of land, in the anxious hope of getting something in return.”

That is a description both accurate and insightful of the world according to McQueen in “Widows.” There’s no love lost between thieves, neither the male nor female variety, or anyone else.

The question is, “Is this an accurate depiction of the world in which we live?” Everything a deal, a transaction, tit for tat?

This “transactional” world-view is underlined in heavy marker (should you have missed it) in several scene sequences featuring a black Chicago preacher. We see him in the pulpit evoking “amens.” He builds the congregation to a frenzy of “hallelujah’s” as he preaches on “love.” “Only love can save us.”

Next scene the same preacher is asking the politicians who are courting his endorsement, “What’s in it for me?” So much for the church, and in particular the black church, in McQueen’s world. Lane is right, everything is a transaction.

We saw “Widows” at a North Seattle theater that had recently been remodeled. Now all seats are reserved, which meant we wandered around trying to find ours for a while. But more, coach seating has been replaced by first class.

All the seats are overstuffed recliners. And all seats are outfitted for more copious consumption of food and beverages in a theater that now augments sale of soft drinks, with wine, beer and even mixed drinks. (Most Seattle live theaters have also added alcohol sales.)

What, I wondered, is behind these “innovations?” I hear the business-savvy among you responding, “Really, you need to ask?”

Well, yes, increased profits, but something else as well.

My hunch is that fewer and fewer contemporary Americans are able to fit into the old-style theater seating.

Beyond that, I’ve always heard that theaters make their money on the concessions, so now they are plumping that market by adding alcohol and a more diverse food menu. Needless to say, this compounds the aforementioned problem of an overweight America.

The other gambit to get us buying food and drinks appears to be to prolong the time before the featured film. Forty minutes elapsed from the announced time of the movie before the feature actually unwound. Commercials, plugs to join the “A List” club (another borrowing from the airlines), and finally previews. Plenty of time to stock and re-stock the cup holders and trays attached to your Lazy Boy.

Maybe McQueen is right. It’s all transactions.

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