If you are considering "inheritence planning" there are probably a number of things you might be toying with: what happens to your house; how to best transfer your investments; who gets the dog; etc. But probably "a grudge" is not on the list. But that's the problem faced by teacher's union rep Veronica (Viola Davis). As you might presume from the film's title Veronica, together with fellow widows Linda (Michelle Rodriquez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Amanda (Carrie Coon), are left in a tight spot when a gang's robbery of a local black hoodlum's stack of cash goes badly wrong. The leader of the gang, and Veronica's husband, is Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson), and his certain set of skills are not enough to save him.
The victim of the robbery, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), is running for local office in the upcoming elections against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), trying to take over the role as part of a long dynasty from his grouchy father Tom (Robert Duvall). Where Jamal might be better with words, Jamal's brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya, "Get Out") has a more physical approach to resolving issues.
What Harry has left behind for Veronica is a notebook containing the details of their next job, and Veronica gathers the female group together to carry out the raid to help save them from a "bullet in the head".
I really enjoyed this film. It's the ying to the yang of the disappointing "Ocean's 8" from earlier in the year. Yes, it's YET another film that focuses on female empowerment and with a strong black presence within the cast. But what for me made it stand out above the crowd was the quality of the writing and the assuredness of the directing.
Although based on the ancient UK TV series by Lynda La Plante, the script is written by "Gone Girl" screenwriter Gillian Flynn, and is excellent. It really doesn't EXPLAIN what is going on, but shows you a series of interconnected scenes and lets you mentally fill in the blanks. While you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand the overall story arc, I must admit that even now I'm not 100% sure of some of the nuances of the story. Harry, for example, seems to be a hardened career criminal, and yet he seems to be revered by the political leaders on both sides, even though he seemed to have loyalty to noone. The script cleverly uses flashbacks and has enough twists and turns to keep you on your mental toes.
The characters also worked well for me, with each having a back story and motivations that were distinctly different from each other. Alice (helped by Debecki's standout performance) is particularly intriguing coming out of an 'interesting' relationship. Is she just following the path of her unpleasant mother (Jacki Weaver)? Some of the actions might suggest so.
As for the direction, Steve McQueen (he of "12 Years a Slave"), delivers some scenes that could justly be described as "bold". A highpoint for me was a short drive by Jack Mulligan and his PA Siobhan (an excellently underplayed Molly Kunz) from a housing project, in a neighbourhood you might worry about walking through at night, to the Mulligan mansion in a leafy and pleasant street. McQueen mounts the camera on the bonnet (hood) of the car, but you can't see the interior other than occasional glimpses of the chauffeur. All you can hear is Mulligan's rant to his Siobhan. I thought this worked just brilliantly well. The heist itself well done and suitably tense with an outcome that continues to surprise.
If there's a criticism then the ending rather fizzles out, leaving a few loose ends flapping in the breeze.
As for the performances, it's only been a couple of weeks since my review of the excellent "Bad Times at the El Royale" and I named as my second film of the year for my (private) "Ensemble Cast" award. And here hot on its tail is the third. There are such strong performances across the cast that it's difficult to pull out specifics: as you start looking at the list you pull out more and more and more names...
- As referenced above, I loved Elizabeth Debecki's performance. Both vulnerable and strong all in one package.
- Colin Farrell, for me, gives his best performance in years as the son caught within the shadow of his overpowering father. A confrontational scene between Farrell and Robert Duvall is particularly powerful.
- Daniel Kaluuya is truly threatening (possibly slightly OTT) as the psycho fixer.
- For the second time in a month Cynthia Erivo stands out as a major acting force, as the hairstylist cum gang member Belle.
- Jon Michael Hill, excellent as a fire-breathing reverend with flexible political views.
It would not surprise me to see Best Supporting Actor nods for any combinations of Debecki, Farrell, Kaluuya and Erivo for this.
I must admit that I'm not the greatest fan of Viola Davis: I find her performances quite mannered. But there's no doubting here the depth of her passion and with this lead performance she carries this film.
Final Thoughts: I loved this as an intelligent action movie that's a cut above the rest. Which is a surprise, since from the trailer I thought it looked good but not THAT good! It comes with my recommendation for an exciting and gripping two hours at the cinema.
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