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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Duvall’

Viola Davis

“WIDOWS” My rating: B

129 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Widows” is a sprawling crime drama that wants to be something more…and almost gets there.

The latest from Brit director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave,” “Shame”) is a heist film with a twist: The perps are all women forced to engage in a crime in order to survive.

In the opening moments we see a group of career criminals — their leader, Harry Rawlings, is portrayed by Liam Neeson — saying goodbye to their families and going off to “work.”  That night all of them die in a fiery crash after stealing millions from a local Chicago crime lord.

They leave behind grieving women who aren’t sure how to get on with their lives.  Harry’s widow, Veronica (Viola Davis), still has the couple’s posh apartment and at least a small reservoir of cash. But her love for Harry was so intense and complete that she’s a mere shell of her former self.

Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) has supported her two kids with a dress shop — though her no-good hubby was always dipping into the till and, in fact, hasn’t paid the rent for months. Trophy wife Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) is pretty much cast adrift; her often-violent spouse (Jon Bernthal) has left behind nothing but bruises.

Worse is still to come.  Veronica is paid a visit by Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) whose millions, stolen by Harry’s crew, went up in flames. He now informs Veronica that she must make good on that debt…or else.  She has no choice but to recruit the other widows whose lives are also in danger; using as their guide a notebook in which Harry meticulously planned future crimes, the three women prepare and execute another multi-million-dollar heist.

This would be enough plot for most films. But the screenplay by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) is only getting started. What they envision with “Widows” is a multi-character examination of modern American urban life…and it isn’t pretty.

This is a world in which everybody is a crook, including — no, especially — politicians.

Despite his criminal enterprises, Jamal Manning is running for city alderman (hey, it’s Chicago). His opponent is the Kennedy-esqe Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), whose closet-racist father (Robert Duvall) has up to now kept the seat in the family despite redistricting that has left the voter pool almost 100 percent black. No matter who wins, the residents are going to get screwed.

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“THE JUDGE”  My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Oct. 10)

141 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The Judge” has a few good things going for it, particularly the promise of a high-octane acting duel between Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr.
What the film doesn’t have is faith that the audience can appreciate solid dramatic acting for more than, oh, three minutes at a stretch.
In this story of an estranged father and son thrown together by a big trial, every  scene that carries a bit of weight immediately goes for a comic coda — often a cheap comic coda. The effect is weirdly mechanical. But we can’t leave the paying customers thinking serious thoughts, right?
The result is an overlong, overstuffed movie at war with itself.Hank Palmer (Downey) is a top Chicago trial lawyer. A maddening mix of intelligence and arrogance, Hank knows how to bend the law to his will. He is not apologetic about this.“Everybody wants Atticus Finch,” he notes, “until there’s a dead hooker in the hot tub.”

It’s a case of perfect casting. Nobody tops Downey in portraying smarmy characters who undergo a redemptive transformation (see “Iron Man”).

The death of Hank’s mother brings him back to the small Indiana town he fled 20 years earlier. Though this idyllic burg seems to have fallen out of a Norman Rockwell painting, Hank  hates the place.

More accurately, he hates his old man, Judge Palmer (Duvall). The two haven’t spoken since forever, and the Judge has never met Hank’s young daughter.

Why these two are always at each other’s throats will be revealed in dribs and drabs over the next two hours.

The Judge is charged with manslaughter in the death by automobile of an ex-con with whom he has had a troubled past.

Being a monstrous egoist, Hank sticks around to represent his father — especially since the Judge’s local attorney (Dax Shepard) is borderline inept. The poor jerk upchucks on the courthouse steps every time he must face Billy Bob Thornton’s steely-eyed prosecutor.

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