WIDOWS. When an artist arrives at a mastery of his or her form, the resulting work sometimes also highlights the masterful efforts of fellow contributors. This is truer in cinema than in most other media, of course, founded as it is on necessary collaboration. Some directors would deny this, perhaps arguing that their role as curator and overseer of the creative enterprise puts them at the top of the artistic food chain, that it is chiefly the director's influence on the collaborators that creates the unity of vision on screen. While there is certainly some truth in that notion (art by committee might make for a noble experiment but is unlikely to produce anything of lasting value or true resonance), I think the best directors are quick to credit their collaborators. A good director hires a costume designer, for example, because he or she will be a good fit and elevate the project, not because he or she can be completely controlled or bent to the other's will.
The great directors excel at managing a team while maintaining clarity of vision and Steve McQueen is one of them. Widows is a triumph of his mastery of the collaborative form.
Maybe because McQueen works constantly in service of story, rather than in service of his own sense of style, his movies could be accused of being aesthetically neutral. Not every frame in a McQueen movie is recognizable as such, as opposed to Wes Anderson or even Quentin Tarantino. But to my eye this is because he is so closely guarding the truth of the story he tells and is simultaneously able to let the creatives with whom he works put forth their best. When a movie succeeds this way it feels substantial, like some gorgeous piece of industrial design, built from precisely machined, perfectly assembled components to become something much greater than the sum of its parts.
This is true of Widows in every element of its construction: an ingenious screenplay by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (adapted from a 1980s BBC miniseries by Lynda La Plante); exquisite editing by Joe Walker; an ominously atmospheric original score by Hans Zimmer; note-perfect costuming by Jenny Eagan and set decoration by Elizabeth Keenan. Really, all artistic departments rise to the occasion but listing every person's name involved would take up the rest of the column. The movie feels to me like the result of a group of deeply talented, hardworking artists working toward a vision, rather than a singular one of a singular creator and it's all the better for it.
In Chicago, the robbery crew led by Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson), finally misses a step, their getaway van shot to shit by SWAT and blown up with them inside. Bad enough but the murderous brothers Manning, Jamal and Jatemme (Bryan Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya, respectively), were the victims of the robbery gone bad, and stand $2 million poorer for it. This in the midst of Jamal's fledgling campaign for an alderman's seat in his district. Said seat has been held uncontested for decades by the Mulligan family, most recently Tom (Robert Duvall), with son Jack (Colin Farrell) the heir apparent. It's bad timing. Jamal, with Jatemme as his mercenary side made manifest, informs Rawlings' widow Veronica (Viola Davis) that she must shoulder the debt and repay it in full within one month. Veronica comes into possession of her late husband's job notes and recruits Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), whose husbands died working with Harry, to pull off the crew's next job.
There's quite a lot more to it than that, of course, but why spoil it? Suffice it to say Widows does everything and does it all flawlessly. It's a pulse-pounding action caper, an examination of the role/plight of women and people of color in contemporary America, of Chicago as flashpoint and microcosm for everything right and dreadfully wrong and continuously burning in this country. All of that and more. And it's acted by an unparalleled ensemble cast of actors who could each steal every scene in which they appear, but instead work together to achieve something greater. R. 128M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
CREED 2. I haven't left enough room here for this sequel but the box office numbers seem to indicate everybody's seeing it anyway. As well they should, it being a fine expansion and refinement of the characters and themes introduced in Creed (2015).
Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) has arrived: He takes the title belt, gets the girl, plans a move to Los Angeles to advance both their careers, has a baby on the way. But in Ukraine, a monster waits. Viktor Drago (Florian "Big Nasty" Munteanu) has trained his entire life to exact vengeance for his father Ivan's (Dolph Lundgren) fall from grace following his defeat at the hands of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). This, of course, following the elder Drago's killing of Apollo Creed in the ring. It's a lot of history and most of it 30-plus years old.
Adonis accepts junior Drago's challenge. It doesn't go particularly well and sends our hero into a long dark night of the soul. And then, of course, into a training montage.
None of what happens in Creed II is particularly surprising but it's carried off with an endearing, perfectly balanced combination of emotional authenticity, bombast and skill that had me alternately on the verge of tears and stifling the impulse to jump out of my seat throughout.
Also, Jordan appears to be ready to take over Hollywood and I say it can't happen soon enough. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947). Little Natalie Wood wants to believe. PG. 94M. BROADWAY.
POKÉMON THE MOVIE: THE POWER OF US. Animated feature about the battling creatures you either love or will never ever understand. NR. 152M. FORTUNA.
THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE. New girl at the morgue has a very bumpy first week. R. 86M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. Rami Malek brings Freddie Mercury's larger-than-life persona to screen but the rest of the band appear only as foils. The conventional plotting and scrubbed story can't dampen the exhilaration of the live-show recreations. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
BORDER. A Swedish customs officer with a nose for guilt falls for a stranger in the midst of a child pornography investigation and my god, this is freaky and I give up. R. 110M. MINIPLEX.
BOY ERASED. Lucas Hedges outshines even the excellent Russell Crowe with a powerful performance in an emotionally raw drama about the tortures of "conversion therapy." R. 114M. BROADWAY.
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? This true-life tale of a floundering, alcoholic author (a brilliant Melissa McCarthy) who finds success in literary forgery has the tension of a thriller while avoiding the empty mimicry of other biopics. R. 106M. MINOR.
DR. SEUSS' THE GRINCH. Benedict Cumberbatch voices the green menace (which is going to give me all kinds of issues) in this latest animated trip to Whoville. PG. 90M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD. The Potter-verse spins on in this sequel to the prequel starring Eddie Redmayne and a bleached out Johnny Depp. PG13. 134M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
INSTANT FAMILY. Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne play stumbling new foster parents of three kids. PG13. 119M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
MUSEO. Gael García Bernal and Leonardo Ortizgris star as thieves in over their heads after taking artifacts from Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology. NR. MINIPLEX.
THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS. The holiday classic gets the epic treatment with Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightly and Hellen Mirren. PG. 99M. BROADWAY.
RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET. More video game hijinks voiced by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman. PG. 112M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
ROBIN HOOD. Taron Egerton steals from the rich and, well, you know. PG13. 116M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill