Tag Archives: robert duvall

‘Widows’ Swings for the Fences, Comes up Short

It’s like “Ocean’s 8” just with none of the light-hearted jokes or Rihanna and Awkafina quipping.

“Widows” is based off the 1980s British TV series of the same name, and follows a group of women (Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo) who must complete a heist to pay back a crime boss after their criminal husbands are all killed in a botched job. Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson also star as Steve McQueen directs.

This film had so much going for it that is almost wasn’t fair. It features an ensemble cast, with half of them sporting the words “Academy Award winner/nominee” in front of their name, and is co-written by  Gillian Flynn, the author of the “Gone Girl” novel and subsequent film. It also is helmed (and co-written) by Steve McQueen, who directed “12 Years a Slave” and won a Best Picture Oscar for producing it. The final product of “Widows” leaves a bit more to be desired, but there is still plenty to enjoy in this indie arthouse disguised as a blockbuster action piece.

I have seen “Gone Girl” a handful of times and with every viewing I fall more in love with Gillian Flynn’s script. Her dialogue is fantastic, probably the second-best next to Aaron Sorkin, and there are parts throughout “Widows” where it is clear the scene was written exclusively by her. Characters have lively interactions and quick retorts, and the film just feels “cool.” Then there are some (I wouldn’t say bland, but) sequences where the dialogue and exchanges feel almost contrived and less organic, and while I wouldn’t put all the blame on McQueen’s half of the pen…I’d just say “Gone Girl” had none of those types of scenes, take that as you will.

The performances across the board from the main cast are all phenomenal, with Michelle Rodriguez turning in a career-best performance, Brian Tyree Henry taking a nice dramatic break from his normal comedy work on Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” and Daniel Kaluuya giving probably the most silently badass performance of 2018. Kaluuya has had quite the past 20 months, being skyrocketed to fame and an Oscar nomination for “Get Out” and then taking part in “Black Panther” this past February. Here he is playing the brother and enforcer of Henry’s mob boss-turned-aspiring politician, and he says more with a silent stare or a hum than he does with his limited words.

No one plays cold and cunning nowadays better than Viola Davis and she is everything you’d expect her to be here, and Liam Neeson has some quietly affecting flashback sequences as her criminal husband.

The film’s problem is that it at times seems unsure what it wants to be, or at least doesn’t come across to the audience the way McQueen intends for it to. He tries to add some fancy camera work and just like “12 Years a Slave” he loves him some lingering shots. I enjoy a long take as much as the next guy but there has to be a reason for it; there is one fantastic sequence here but another (or two) that just comes off a bit show-offy. There is so much planning and running around for the heist that the film does slog and drag a bit, and despite only clocking in at a little over 120 minutes it feels like a longer journey.

I really wanted to like “Widows” more than I did, although I will campaign for Kaluuya and the screenplay to get Oscar nominations come February. The final heist sequence has a couple heart-pounding moments and it gives famed faces like Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson a chance to remind us that they can still hang with the best of them, but the points leading up to the climax are either slow, silly or a mixture of the two. Viola fans or those who wished “Ocean’s 8” had more headshots should be more willing to forgive the flaws, and as far as adult entertainment at the multiplex you can do worse, but given all this had going for it on paper this could have been a homerun.

Critic’s Grade: B-

20th Century Fox

‘Judge’ Clichéd, but Charasmatic

The_Judge_2014_film_poster                As if it needed to be confirmed, I don’t think there’s a more charismatic actor in the business than Robert Downey Jr. He once again lends his charm and talents to “The Judge”, in which he plays Hank, a slimy big city defense lawyer (is there any other kind?). When visiting his small hometown in Indiana for his mother’s funeral, Hank’s elderly father (played by Robert Duvall) is accused of murder, and Hank must defend now him. David Dobkin directs as Vera Farmiga and Billy Bob Thorton costar.

“The Judge” is an interesting movie. Not because it is perplexing or fresh (because it’s pretty straightforward and standard), but because it has moments of brilliance that are then followed by 10 very slow, sometimes awkwardly schmaltzy minutes. Honestly, the best thing I can compare it to is “Jersey Boys”: it’s overlong and at times too self-serious, but also has some soaring scenes and is certainly worth a view.

The best part of “Judge”, by far, is Downey and Duvall going at it. One of the film’s many clichés is that they are a father and son with a strained relationship, but they make sure that this plot point does not feel stale or derivative. Duvall growls and Downey does his fast-talking thing; it all elevates the film higher than it would have been in the hands of less-capable actors.

While the courtroom scenes aren’t as nail-biting or riveting as they could have or should have been, they are still entertaining, and seeing Downey spit out lawyer lingo will always make me say “shut up and take my money!”.

The director of the film, David Dobkin, is known for such classy dramas as “The Change-Up” and “Wedding Crashers” (sarcasm, of course). I can respect that he wants to make a serious Hollywood film but I can’t help but feel he’s a little out of place. It is a lot like Ruben Fleischer, who directed comedies “Zombieland” and “30 Minutes or Less”, then tried to make a serious film with “Gangster Squad”. My personal feelings for “Squad” aside, you can tell the film’s narrative and tone are not quite confident, or consistent, and that inhibits the movie from reaching higher levels.

Dobkin, who wrote the story for “Judge” as well, knows how to make a shot look pretty or show character emotion, but his scenes draw on too long, and moments of attempted humor will come at such random times that you aren’t sure whether to laugh or cringe.

Like I hinted at earlier, the movie has a lot of clichés. From the estranged son, to a character maybe having a daughter they never knew about, all the way to the diner full of townspeople with one of them literally saying “we’ve eaten breakfast here every week for over twenty years” (which is followed by you rolling your eyes). If there’s a book about “Things to Include in a Movie about a Small Town”, the screenwriter probably has it on his shelf.

“The Judge” is pretty much going to be as good as you thought it was going to be when you saw the trailer. If you’re like me and you thought, “oh, there’s a drama with forced comedic moments but will feature two great performances from the Roberts”, then you’ll enjoy yourself. If you thought, “this thing looks like a sappy, unfunny version of ‘My Cousin Vinny’ meets ‘Doc Hollywood’”, well then I can’t tell you you’re completely wrong; that’s how perplexing this movie is.

Critics Rating: 6/10