Review – Bad Girls, Bad Girls, Whatchya Gonna Do? (“Widows”)

Remember the 2017 one-season only ABC-TV series, Good Girls? It was dramedy about three ordinary housewives forced to do illegal things after the girls rob a supermarket, not knowing it was owned by a local mobster. Taking it up a notch or two, this movie has murder, mayhem, robbery, and twists ‘n’ turns that you don’t see comin’.

We start with a robbery gone very bad and four deaths. Renowned thief & leader Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his three partners all die horribly after a botched robbery, leaving his Harry’s grieving wife, Veronica (Viola Davis), being threatened by crime boss Jamal Manning (Brain Tree Henry), who also happens to running for local Alderman against the super-corrupt Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). Looks like the $2mil that Harry stole (and was consequently burned up) was for Jamal’s campaign, so Veronica is told to come up with that money… or else!

Veronica, armed with only sheer guts and Harry’s playbook/blueprints of a future heist, gets a crazy idea: Get the widows of the other dead men to pull off this robbery with her. Widows Linda Perelli (Michelle Rodriguez) and too-tall Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki) are all-in, but not widow #4. While this is going on, the campaign nastiness and Veronica’s woes are increased with Jamal’s evil and dangerous brother, Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya), who has NO problems in killing anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Pretty soon Veronica, stone-cold and hardened, is taking over for her late hubby, calling the shots and meticulously planning the caper down to the smallest detail, even with contingency plans. But they need a driver after Veronica’s BFF and chauffeur got iced (Jatemme don’t play games), so in comes hard-core Belle (Cynthia Erivo), whose more than willing to play with the girls. Meanwhile, the Alderman race is heating between Jamal and Jack, with no love lost between these two, especially with corruption being their best friends.

The third act is by far the best with the robbery, its execution, and the after-effects. One thing is for certain, there are many scenes in this movie you don’t see coming. Thanks to the brilliant screenplay of director Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave) and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl). I actually found myself not knowing what was going to happen next; a nice surprise! Starting off like a shotgun, the film does drift off into exposition-land in act two, dragging the tempo down a bit, but the third act pops for a crisp, solid finish. The dialogue is fresh, smart, and has a punch to it.

And enough cannot be said about McQueen’s dazzling direction. As impressive as Scorsese, his use of the camera isn’t just “point ‘n’ shoot”, he uses clever tricks and nuances to balance the film and tell the story for you. One scene in particular stands-out: in one Steadi-cam shot we see Jack’s car leave a poverty-stricken poor neighborhood to the exquisite brownstones of his suburban estate, which is only a few blocks away. This is done in all one-take and from the car’s POV! Nice! Now, that’s film making!

Then there’s Viola Davis, carrying the film with her firm commitment and countenance. Rodriguez, finally away from driving fast ‘n’ furious cars, really excels here, but it’s Debicki that shines with her ‘punching-bag’ persona that grows into a strong figure. And you DO NOT want to run into Kaluuya! His Jatemme is positively blood-curdling scary, a far cry from his Wakanda days! And let’s hear it for Robert Duvall, who makes any movie he’s in just that much better by sheer force of will. The man is a national treasure.


Set It Off (1996)
Crime doesn’t pay, but this movie sure did! Four young black women robbing banks and how their lives were turned topsy-turvy in the process is the subject matter of this slick action flick. Starring some of the hottest talents on screen this movie, although formulaic, had some exceptional writing and direction.

We start in downtown L.A. and a bank robbery gone bad. Francesca “Frankie” Sutton (Vivica A. Fox) is a bank teller who, even though she witnessed the robbery and knew one of the gunmen, is nonetheless fired. She’s forced to go to work at the loathsome Luther’s Janitorial Services with her three best friends: Lida “Stony” Newsom (Jada Pinkett) who just lost her brother to a recent police shooting, hot-head and crazy Cleopatra “Cleo” Sims (Queen Latifah), and struggling single mother Tisean “T.T.” Williams (Kimberly Elsie). Earning next to nothing and treated like dirt, Cleo suggest they should rob a bank.

At first some disagree, but after T.T.’s baby is taken away by Child Protective Serves over a slight mishap, they’re all in. The first bank they rob proves easy as pie, but only gets them a paltry $12K. This brings out toothpick-chomping LAPD detective Strode (Ted C. McGinley). He suspects that Cleo, Frankie, and Stony, are involved but can’t quite get enough evidence. The girls decide on another robbery and hit pay dirt; a whopping $750K! Ecstatic, they decide to lay low and hide the money until they can blow town, but there’s a problem. Their nasty boss finds the hidden cash, spends it, and then T.T. kills him self-defense.

Even with murder now on their plate, the four broke girls decide on – that’s right – another bank robbery. Stoney calls her bank manager boyfriend (Blair Underwood) first to get him out of the way, then the hit is on. But disaster strikes as Strode shows up and the bullets fly. That’s when the girls escape, the car chase begins, and you have a sad ending to a rather poignant, but noisy movie.

Kate Lanier (Beauty Shop) and Takashi Bufford (Booty Call) are more accustomed to writing wacky sex comedies than gritty crime dramas, so this film comes off as more of a bank robbery movie sandwiched in-between a Waiting To Exhale chick-flick. Unfocused in it’s path, it seemed the writers wanted to pay more attention to the girls personal lives, rather than the whole ‘let’s rob a bank’ scenario. You got four stories spinning inside the main one: Cleo’s whole lesbian lifestyle, Stoney’s tragic loss & love affair, T.T. and her baby, and Frankie’s job loss. BUT! When the focus shifts to the actual bank robbery and execution, then the action picks up and the fun begins.

And for these action scenes, director F. Gary Gray is well versed. He’s done The Italian Job and The Fate of the Furious, so his camerawork is impeccable. But let’s not rule out the girls here either, as the cast is wicked cool. Although Pinkett, Fox, and Elise are all great, this is Latifah’s movie. She exudes such an inner powder-keg, you never know when she’s kidding around or when she’s gonna explode. Think of her as a female Joe Pesci from Goodfellas.

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