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Early in “Widows,“ Steve McQueen’s stylish new adaptation of Lynda La Plante’s British miniseries, two Chicago politicians talk over the stakes of their upcoming special election. One is the current alderman, Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall), the other is his son Jack (Colin Farrell), angling to take over his dad’s seat, who warns that if they can’t crush an outsider candidate, “we won’t have a pot to piss in.” His father, referencing a pricey piece of modern art the younger man has just finished showing off, retorts, “Says the man with the $50,000 piece of wallpaper.”
“It’s art,” corrects his son.
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“Wallpaper,” the old man replies.
And they go back and forth like that for a while. It’s a throwaway bit, barely connected to the picture’s central story. It plays more like a winking in-joke: hey look, here’s Steve McQueen, a guy who makes art (quite literally — he broke through as a visual artist), trying his hand at the wallpaper of a heist thriller genre movie.
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And through much of “Widows,” McQueen tries mightily to fuse those approaches. His impulse for experimentation is present from the opening frames, which intercut the morning routines of several career crooks and their wives with their last, big job going sideways— the intermingling they all must do, every day, of criminal and domestic matters. McQueen gets right down to business; the entire crew is dead before the title card, and soon Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis, sturdy as ever), widow of ringleader Harry (Liam Neeson) is paid a scary visit by criminal/would-be politico Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). Manning and his brother Jatemme (a terrifying Daniel Kaluuya) were the targets of that last job, and two million dollars of their money went...
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