WIDOWS: It’s been said that the only difference between criminals and politicians is that the latter group have better wardrobes and retirement plans. One woman (Viola Davis) and two others (Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez) learn this the hard way when their abusive/controlling husbands are killed in a botched robbery. It turns out that the robbers and their leader (Liam Neeson) were stealing money from a black candidate for alderman (Brian Tyree Henry) running against a white incumbent (Colin Farrell) reluctant to preside over a changing urban district controlled over multiple generations by his racist, domineering father (Robert Duvall) who’s bent on maintaining the family political foothold. All of this takes place in Chicago which feels like a character in the movie where corruption and graft are so institutionalized that even a black, charismatic preacher (Jon Michael Hill) with a large congregation of voters is for sale (Jesse Jackson, anyone?). Against this backdrop, it’s little wonder that the trio of females facing few options, mounting debts and physical harm plan a heist of millions in kickback money hidden in a safe at the home of the white political bosses. Unlike last summer’s OCEANS 8, there isn’t any female bonding or collection of women with special skills for the job but rather a trio plus one (Cynthia Erivo) who have entered strictly into a business proposition. Co-writer/director Steve McQueen (12 YEARS A SLAVE) plays all of this action out against a narrative that incorporates its’ commentary on issues like gender inequality, racial injustice and how easy it is for anyone in America to buy a gun. But once these points are made, the story moves ahead so as not to overwhelm the viewer with too many “big ideas”. The climactic heist almost feels secondary to all of the twists and turns that the movie takes to get there and one of these feels lifted from one of those daytime soap opera plots where a character thought to be dead turns up alive “because there was nothing left of the body”. Even if the eventual outcome didn’t feel all that believable, the film is carried along throughout by an underplayed yet powerhouse performance from Davis (FENCES) as well as a more than adequate ensemble cast that includes Duvall (See CLOSING CREDITS.) chewing up the scenery and Daniel Kaluuya (GET OUT) as one of the most blackhearted, scariest sociopaths since Richard Widmark pushed his elderly, wheelchair bound mother down a flight of stairs in KISS OF DEATH (1947). Even with all of the portrayals of a political culture where everyone’s avarice and corruption are measured by degrees, the movie never forgets that its’ primary job is to entertain and boy does it ever accomplish that. CRITIC”S GRADE: A-

CLOSING CREDITS: Here are some other excellent movies starring Robert Duvall – TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962), CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. (1963), BULLITT (1968), COUNTDOWN (1968), THE DETECTIVE (1968), THE RAIN PEOPLE (1969), TRUE GRIT (1969), M*A*S*H (1970), LAWMAN (1971), THE GODFATHER (1972)*, THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID (1972), TOMORROW (1972), THE CONVERSATION (1974), THE GODFATHER, PART II (1974), BREAKOUT (1975), NETWORK (1976), THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION (1976), THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (1977), APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)*, THE GREAT SANTINI (1979)**, TENDER MERCIES (1983)***, THE STONE BOY (1984), COLORS (1988), RAMBLING ROSE (1991), SLING BLADE (1996), THE APOSTLE (1997)**, A CIVIL ACTION (1998)*, THE 6TH DAY (2000), OPEN RANGE (2003), SECONDHAND LIONS (2003), THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (2006), WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007), CRAZY HEART (2009), THE ROAD (2009), GET LOW (2010), THE JUDGE (2014)*

*Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor

**Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor

***Academy Award Winner for Best Actor