Steve McQueen’s work has always been weighty and dour, but with a distinct sense of purpose. Viewers are probably most familiar with the Best Picture-winning 12 Years a Slave, but McQueen’s other features depict a sex addict (Shame) and the Irish hunger strikes during The Trouble (Hunger). Widows, McQueen’s newest feature shares some of the dour coloring of his previous work, but is much more suited for general audiences. McQueen draws potent performances from a rich ensemble that features Viola Davis, another Oscar winner. The story, penned by McQueen and Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl, is interesting from both the perspective of plot and its peculiar, non-linear structure. Eminently more approachable that the rest of Steve McQueen’s oeuvre, Widows is that rare concoction of pulpy action and piquant social commentary.
The opening sequence of The Dark Horse depicts Genesis Potini wandering through the rain muttering to himself, intercut with his older brother teaching him the game of chess when they were both children. He stops in a store with a few chessboards set up, and continues his frantic word salad as the shop owners look on nervously. Then, Genesis starts moving the pieces with a preternatural celerity, waxing poetic chess theory, comparing the relative qualities of the Sicilian defense and the Scotch game. The preamble continues until Genesis is discovered by his handler and whisked back to the mental hospital. The title flashes across the screen, and we understand the fundamental themes of The Dark Horse immediately: dealing with mental health, the importance of family and community, and the transformative power of the game of Chess.
Are you re-watching episodes of QI and startling yourself with how often you remember the answers? Do you have a VPN set up to watch 8 Out of 10 Cats? Are you slightly angry that my previous question didn’t conclude with “Does Countdown”? This hackneyed rhetoric is just a way for me to say that if you enjoy British comedy, then Sean Foley’s Mindhorn is definitely for you. Even if you’re not crazy about the Brits and their particular brand of whimsy, you’re likely to find something to enjoy in this weird little farce.
In a strange paradox, executing a proper farce demands preternatural planning. Stray but a little from the knife’s edge, and the tone can spiral out of control as the conflicting elements of the film separate like a broken sauce. Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire suffers such a fate, though it isn’t for lack of effort or a gripping central idea. The film tries to position some idiosyncratic characters in a bottle, shake everything up, and let them shoot guns at each other for 75 minutes, but too many of these elements are just a bit off the mark. The characters and the performances mostly hit, and the inciting event feels reasonable, but the organization and the length of the fight strains comprehension and ends up being to repetitive to hold the spectator’s interest. Free Fire does a better job than most genre-bending farces, but ultimately it just feels too boring for a movie centered around a free-for-all firefight.
Stanley Kubrick described his heist film The Killing as his, “first mature work”, and the film boasts many of the director’s eventual hallmarks. Techniques that appear in Kubrick’s later masterpieces can be seen in a nascent form throughout the film, as if Kubrick is exploring the possibilities of his own voice and style. Specifically, The Killing purposely confuses the viewer through keen story structure choices and twists on the heist genre. The result is a disorientation that forwards a theme that trickery, thievery, and crime – even those which are meticulously planned, are doomed to failure.
Nocturnal Animals is fashion designer Tom Ford’s second feature film as both writer and director, and once again he has delivered a nuanced film full of emotion, sadness, and intrigue. Starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, the film is a peculiar mixture of crime thriller and relationship melodrama, married through an inventive “story-within-a-story” structural device: the main character reads a manuscript of her ex-husband’s novel, and the film’s narrative ping-pongs between the real world and the world of the novel. As the procedural story unravels in the novel, we learn more about the relationship between these two characters in multiple flashbacks.