September 8, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Widows” & “The Front Runner”


WIDOWS (20th – Nov. 16):  Widows is a genre movie that isn’t sure it wants to be one.  That’s not a shock, because the idea of the aesthete director Steve McQueen, of Hunger, Shame and 12 Years A Slave renown, toiling in the land of Ocean’s 8 seemed odd from the start.  And for a while, it’s not clear that McQueen’s mix of heist movie and Prestige TV solemnity is going to work.  But McQueen teamed up with co-screenwriter and thriller queen Gillian Flynn, and they manage to give emotional and political weight to Widows while also delivering the movie-movie goods.  Based on a British series (originally created by Prime Suspect‘s Lynda La Plante), the story, relocated to Chicago, concerns the titular widows of a gang of high-class thieves, who are forced to work together to pull off one of the gang’s planned capers when a dangerous victim of the gang demands his money returned or else.  There are plenty of twists, including a doozy in the third act, but much of the time, McQueen and Flynn are concerned more with characters and context than the scheme.  McQueen assembled a spectacular cast, led but not dominated by Viola Davis, who faces off thrillingly with the likes of Elizabeth Debicki (stunningly good), Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Michelle Rodriguez, Liam Neeson, Brian Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya.  As usual with McQueen, the technical credits are impeccably expert, including cinematography by Sean Bobbitt, music by Hans Zimmer, and editing by Joe Walker.  Widows requires a bit more patience than the usual caper movie, but it also provides a richer brand of storytelling.

THE FRONT RUNNER (Columbia/Sony – November 6):  Jason Reitman’s worthwhile, intelligent recreation of a pivotal moment in the history of America’s politics and press is plagued by a curious lack of urgency.  The title refers to Colorado Senator Gary Hart, who in 1988 was considered the man to beat for the Democratic Presidential nomination.  It turned out that the person best equipped to beat him was himself, by way of a barely-hidden affair with Donna Rice, and his own taunt to the press that if they thought he was an adulterer, they should just follow him–which the Miami Herald did.  When Hart left the race 3 weeks later, it changed the relationship between the media and politicians forever, and considering that the first George Bush ended up facing Michael Dukakis instead of the charismatic Hart, it also arguably changed American history.  Reitman, writing with Matt Bai (whose book was the source material) and Jay Carson, tells the story lucidly and from a variety of angles, including the viewpoints of members of the Hart campaign and of the press.  The Front Runner is well-paced, and shot with an effectively restless camera (cinematography by Reitman veteran Eric Steelberg).  Hugh Jackman, as Hart, presents a figure both believably electable and arrogantly heedless of his own self-destructiveness.  The supporting cast includes the invaluable JK Simmons as Hart’s campaign manager, Alfred Molina as Ben Bradlee, Bill Burr and Kevin Pollak as other members of the press, and Vera Farmiga and Kaitlyn Dever as Hart’s wife and daughter.  Somehow, though, the film feels placid rather than pulsing with the energy of crisis, as though everyone involved is all too aware that it’s telling a decades-old story.  The Front Runner feels more like a thesis than a drama, depicting complexity rather than allowing itself, and its audience, to be coiled up.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."