Director Steve McQueen has already won an Academy Award.  So has Viola Davis, and her intensity lights up whatever scene she's in, and anybody else on the screen better have some luminosity of their own.  Liam Neeson plays her husband, and the crook, and he's Oscar-nominated, and is an A-list star in his own right.  So is Colin Farrell, a Golden Globe winner, who plays Jack Mulligan, the smooth Chicago politician running for Alderman.  And we all assume that Chicago politicians walk on the Dark Side, right?  And nobody can play a cussed, cussing old coot like Robert Duvall, who somehow looks decrepit and menacing at the same time.  Michelle Rodriguez, of “Fast and Furious” fame, carries her own glaring persona into her role, and then there's the tall, cool, blonde model, Elizabeth Debicki, contrasted with the short, tough little fireball, Belle (Cynthia Arivo), and that's just the gang of Widows.

            Director Steve McQueen also provides us with some striking performances from the supporting cast.  The politician Jamal Manning is played by Brian Tyree Henry with a tense combination of smooth and menacing;  a velvet hammer of intimidation.  Molly Koontz as Jack Mulligan's wife seems innocently supportive in her visual scenes, but then gives her flagging husband a profane tongue-lashing, portrayed only on the audio as their black limousine purrs away from a blighted street in the ghetto.  Jamal's brother, and apparent campaign manager, Jatemme Manning (Daniel Kaluuya), does the dirty work, but casually, without ever getting his own hands dirty, or even wrinkling his suit. 

            Director Steve McQueen also throws us some red herrings.  There's the passionate preaching of  Reverend Wheeler (Jon Michael Hill), a smooth-talking politician who might be aligned with the bad crowd.  And did he privately imply that his political allegiance was for sale?  Carlos (Manuel Garcia Rulfo) we barely meet, but we immediately loathe him, because of the way he suddenly switches to sweet and soft after he hits her.  But wait, the women slap each other, as well.  And not all of the smoking guns are accounted for.  And there's some viewer deception at the beginning, which may or may not explain a betrayal at the end.

            Director Steve McQueen knows how to provide us with studies in contrast.  Scenes from a violent robbery and gunfight interspersed with quiet domestic tranquility.  A hyped-up auctioneer is standing across from an innocent buyer holding up a number, who's taking advice from a stranger.  There's women who own hair salons and clothing boutiques, who live in high-rise urban condos, and men who dwell in squalor, on the seamy side of town, playing mindless games of chance with pin-up girls taped to the dry wall.  The physical intimacy we witness at first turns out to be deceptive.  The steamy sex scene is actually a mere business transaction.  An upscale sauna is where we discuss entering a life of crime.

            Director Steve McQueen, in concert with acclaimed writer Gillian Flynn, provides us with a multi-faceted gem, which reflects light differently every time it turns.  The beginning may be a bit deceptive, and the ending a bit puzzling, but the middle is an immersion into a jaded labyrinth where you'll find yourself rooting for the rookie criminals.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association