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.
In Fences, the titanic talents of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are once again on full display. The two reprise their roles from the 2010 revival of August Wilson’s play of the same name, for which each earned a Tony Award. The film certainly feels like a play, as the performances are very stylized towards the stage. Washington directs the film as well, making it his third feature, and first in nearly ten years. Though peppered with discussions of race relations in the 1950s, the core of the story focuses on the relationships between members of the Maxson family. Within this context, Fences explores the importance of responsibility, the strength and danger of a domineering personality, and the conflict between settling for something and seeking out your own desires in life. It is a small film, but packs quite a punch throughout.
With Suicide Squad, writer/director David Ayer has accomplished little beyond kicking the can that is the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) down the road another ten months, leaving us all to hope that maybe, just maybe, Wonder Woman will be the first good DCEU film. Between a crowded cast of thin characters, a banal and cookie-cutter plot, and a confused jumble of non-themes and stylistic choices, the film is bereft of quality in almost every sense. Though some top-level performances generate intriguing characters, they are utterly squandered by the surrounding issues and ultimately leave Suicide Squad with a very scattered, up-and-down feel. While it may not be as unintelligible or frenzied as Batman v. Superman, Ayer’s film possesses the greater flaw: a bland story.
Denis Villeneuve week nears its end with his only true American film, and the largest budget he’s had to work with to date: the kidnapping mystery/thriller Prisoners. Of all of Villeneuve’s films, this may be the most uneasy, the most challenging to watch, and the one film that is truly unafraid of exploring the depths that humanity can reach at the intersection of desperation and good intention. Its subject matter is particularly challenging for parents, as it primarily deals with the disappearance of a pair of young girls.