Movie Reviews: Widows; Juliet, Naked and Peterloo

Widows: Five stars Juliet, Naked: Four stars Peterloo: Three stars

Movie Reviews: Widows; Juliet, Naked and Peterloo

Widows [rating]5[/rating]

Obliged to make good on a $2 million debt when their criminal husbands are killed during a botched robbery, the Widows (16s) — Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) — come together to consider Veronica’s audacious proposal: that they form a gang and steal the $2m they ‘owe’ by following plans left behind by Veronica’s husband, Harry (Liam Neeson). Set in contemporary Chicago, and adapted from Lynda LaPlante’s bestseller by Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen, with McQueen directing, Widows is a gripping thriller that up-ends the conventions of the heist-gone-wrong crime flick.

Something of a game-changer when first adapted as a TV mini-series in 1983 for the way it put women front-and-centre in a crime drama, the story makes a virtue of the women’s apparent naivety when it comes to dealing with the criminal underworld — these women may not be familiar with guns and bank blueprints, but they’ve had a lifetime’s experience of multi-tasking their way around violent assholes.

The plot is probably more complicated than it needs to be — there’s an extended sub-plot involving an election in which Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) faces off against Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) — but the main story, in which Veronica & Co negotiate a path through a variety of potentially lethal men standing in their way, is entirely riveting.

Viola Davis steals the show as a woman who shucks off her widow’s weeds to reveal a formidable woman of steely resolve. Pacy and direct, even as it evolves into a labyrinthine tale of double- and triple-cross, Widows

is a muscular thriller that packs a powerful emotional punch.

Juliet, Naked [rating]4[/rating]

Driven to distraction by her boyfriend Duncan’s (Chris O’Dowd) obsession with cult alt-rock star Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), Annie (Rose Byrne) posts a negative review of Crowe’s new album, Juliet, Naked (15A), on Duncan’s internet forum. When Crowe emails Annie to say her review was entirely correct, an unlikely transatlantic romance begins to blossom — leaving Duncan, who has just split up with Annie, sick with jealousy.

Adapted from Nick Hornby’s novel, and directed by Jesse Peretz, Juliet, Naked is a charmingly off-beat romantic comedy which could easily have become something of a reworking of High Fidelity had the focus been the immature Duncan and his adolescent fixation on Tucker Crowe’s music. Thankfully, the movie is much more concerned with Rose, a woman who is sick to the back teeth with other people’s history — Tucker Crowe’s career, the 15 years wasted on Duncan, her job as manager of a minor museum —– and is fully primed to go out into the world and make some history of her own.

Byrne is as superb as always, playing Annie as a seething mass of pent-up frustration whose brittle smiles and delicately enunciated civilities mask a ravenous hunger for the true meat and drink of a life lived to the full.

She gets terrific support from Ethan Hawke’s laid-back slacker who is (belatedly) determined to do the right thing and Chris O’Dowd’s hilariously petulant man-child, while Jesse Peretz directs with a light touch, allowing the tale’s quirky twists to serve as a knowing commentary on the tropes of the more conventional rom-com.

Peterloo [rating]3[/rating]

Written and directed by Mike Leigh, Peterloo (12A) is an epic account of the events leading up to the infamous massacre at St Peter’s Field in Manchester in 1819, when a crowd gathered to demand parliamentary reform was attacked by a cavalry charge that left 15 people dead and hundreds injured. The story offers a number of perspectives, including that of the poverty-stricken family of Joshua (Pearce Quigley) and Nellie (Maxine Peake).

Beautifully detailed, the film is superb at evoking the mood of imminent insurrection in Lancashire, as destitute veterans of the Napoleonic Wars return home to stir the simmering rage of the wage-slaves who man the factory looms.

An elegant piece of agit-prop in its early stages — Leigh wastes no time in drawing parallels between the parliamentary reform demand then and the democratic deficit of modern times — the film is unnecessarily didactic at times: Leigh, assuming his audience to be historically illiterate, even insists on shoehorning in a highly improbable scene in which Joshua, Nellie and their family sit around discussing the impact of the Corn Laws.

Meanwhile, the characterisations are crude: the impoverished poor are for the most part plucky peaceniks, whilst their overbearing lords and masters are Hogarthian caricatures of pompous cruelty. All that said, Peterloo is a timely film, not least in terms of its stirring call to arms on behalf of an electorate that has been sorely abused by its political class.

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