Directed by Steve McQueen
Starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Carrie Coon, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Jacki Weaver, Jon Bernthal and Liam Neeson.
Set in contemporary Chicago, amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
Widows follows the story of four recently bereaved women who have to undertake a heist in order to pay back a debt owed by their deceased husbands after a robbery goes wrong. Part political commentary, part feminist message and part heist movie, Widows is a genre hybrid that’s held together masterfully by the central cast and director Steve McQueen. Following up his award winning 12 Years a Slave with a reimagining of a Lynda La Plante story and TV series from 1985 is on the surface an odd choice, but any doubts are alleviated after the first hour.
Viola Davis heads up the crew as Veronica, the recently bereaved wife of Harry (Neeson), she’s supported by no nonsense mum Linda (Rodriguez), downtrodden Alice (Debicki) and Belle (Erivo) a mutual friend whose help they enlist. The acting on display with these four is phenomenal, with Davis and Debicki standing out especially. When Viola Davis appears in a film you can almost guarantee that she’s going to be good, but in Widows she takes it to a new level playing both the grief stricken wife and the strong and powerful crime gang leader to perfect. Debicki handles Alice’s problematic character with sensitivity and her character growth is the strongest in the film. A final speech before the heist is packed with emotion and resonates well after the credits role.
Alongside the women, there is an unnerving and intimidating performance from Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning – a powerful gang member who wants to help his brother be elected to office. His performance is intense and I found myself tensing whenever he appeared on screen. His spontaneous bursts of violence are effective and chilling. Colin Farrell also continues his career resurgence as slimy politician Jack Mulligan. His character is cliché but Farrell brings a shit eating grin that’s almost too convincing.
Whilst there are a few bits of humour littered throughout – a scene where Alice goes to buy a van but has to be picked up by Veronica because she doesn’t drive stands out – Widows is largely a serious thriller. Whilst issues around race, femininity, grief and corruption are raised throughout the film they’re left to the audience to think about rather than openly explored. At one point McQueen puts a camera on a car as Farrell leaves a political rally in a deprived area of Chicago and we hear the conversation between Farrell and his girlfriend inside as they talk about power. As the journey continues the scenery behind the car changes from the poverty stricken place where he’s rallying to the gated community where he lives. It takes only a few minutes to get there but in this time it sums up McQueen’s point clearly. He also uses a lot of mirrors throughout the film hinting at the different sides to the female characters then what people expect.
As with any crime thriller there are plenty of twists and turns throughout. Some are surprising and work well whereas others can be seen coming from a mile off. What makes Widows a success is the chemistry between the four main actresses and the way they portray their characters as determined and focused women who won’t sit back and be controlled by others.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★