- Emma Simmonds
- 10 October 2018
LFF 2018: Viola Davis heads up a meaty crime drama from Steve McQueen
Slick, smart, suspenseful and brimming with pathos for the women whose lives are trampled under the boots of men, Steve McQueen's follow-up to 12 Years a Slave trades historical horrors for present-day cynicism; its characters might be free but, for that, they're paying a crippling price. It's a story of greed and survival in a dog-eat-dog city set against the battle for an impoverished, predominantly black ward.
This densely populated, richly realised crime drama is based somewhat surprisingly on the 1980s TV series by Lynda La Plante; despite shifting the milieu to contemporary Chicago, some key details and a late-in-the-game development remain intact. With hardboiled dialogue courtesy of McQueen himself and Gone Girl's Gillian Flynn, it's the kind of politically disaffected tale that's a good fit for our troubled times.
Viola Davis plays Veronica Rawlings, the straight spouse of Liam Neeson's career criminal Harry, who talks the wives of her husband's associates (Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez) into a heist when a job goes fatally awry. Meanwhile, in a film that sees violent crime and political corruption as equivalently destructive, the outgoing alderman of the 18th Ward, Tom Mulligan (a vile Robert Duvall), hopes to hand the upcoming election to his jaded, already morally tarnished son Jack (Colin Farrell). However, local crook turned unscrupulous businessman Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) has other ideas. In his machinations, he's menacingly flanked by his brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya).
With three very different females the ultimate focus, we've come a long way from the days of eyelash-batting gangster's molls, while McQueen has no truck with Ocean's Eight's brand of screwball criminality. These women are grafters and pragmatists who roll up their sleeves and set themselves to the task of robbing, refusing to be collateral damage to male misadventure.
Working with a cast which bear the weight of his scrutiny, McQueen's contemplative, soul-searching style is in evidence enough without detracting from genre thrills and feminist fury. 'No-one thinks we have the balls to pull this off,' spits Veronica. Just watch them prove everyone wrong.
Screening on Wed 10, Thu 11 and Fri 12 Oct as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2018. General release from Tue 6 Nov.