Directed by Steve McQueen.
Starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Farrell, Carrie Coon, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, and Cynthia Erivo.
When a posthumous debt from her husband (Liam Neeson) lands at the feet of Veronica (Viola Davis), she decides to inherit so much more than a death sentence by planning a heist with the widows of his criminal gang, one that could realign their place in the world.
Steve McQueen’s standing as one of the most accomplished directors of his generation was never up for debate, but what the 12 Years a Slave and Shame filmmaker has achieved with Widows is to make a piece of populist big screen entertainment without abandoning the themes and social commentary with which his work has become synonymous. Widows is a feminist empowerment fable wrapped in the packaging of a heist thriller, and it’s terrific.
Wowing from the off with an economical montage, one which juxtaposes the frantic robbery-gone-wrong with scenes of the gang members and their soon-to-be widows, it does in a pre-credit sequence what most films would take two reels to do, and in such a stylishly cold way that’s indicative of the film’s tone throughout.
Dereliction and abandonment pepper the landscape, as well as the characters, with the impoverished areas of contemporary Chicago acting as the perfect metaphor for our titular ladies. They’re repeatedly told “This is not your world”, and that’s because these women don’t have one. Their opportunities are in the hands of men, their lives shaped by the decisions that have been made for them, so the driving force of reclamation and ownership is a powerful through line that carries the film right through to a beautifully played final shot. If nothing else, McQueen’s film is about optimism.
The Widows themselves are superb; Viola Davis fronts up as the leader of the gang, taking names with kick-ass stoicism, with a hint of humanity bubbling under the surface to ensure that you care. Elizabeth Debicki might very well be the MVP, given an equally satisfying arc. Introduced having her bruise prodded by the abusive husband who gave it to her (a fleeting appearance from Jon Bernthal), she ends up being the heart of the movie, with a turn that’s as fragile as it is fearsome.
Obviously with an ensemble this big, not everyone is afforded such depth, with Carrie Coon given the most thankless role of the widows. The other notable stand-out is Daniel Kaluuya, who adds ‘delightfully evil shit’ to his growing repertoire of characters. All stares and cocksure posturing, he’s magnetic as a politicians thug. A scene in which he gets a couple of goons to perform a rap song which contributed to a botched heist, shot wonderfully by McQueen as the camera whips 360 around the intense beat-boxing, is cruelly funny.
The plot may be quite predictable, you don’t need to think that hard to guess the pivotal twist, but all of that feels secondary to the evolution and imbuing of power of this group of women. Even the heist, which is lean, tense, and executed in a no-frills fashion, is brief, and much like the team trying to pull it off, feels utterly real.
Few movies this year will get close to the fist clenching euphoria experienced while watching Viola Davis strive to make the world of Widows her own, or the way in which Debicki’s sweet naivety gives way to a steely confidence. Steve McQueen has created a movie that’ll thrill the crowds, but perhaps more importantly, get them thinking.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt