Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Steve McQueen, Gillian Flynn
Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Rated R | 129 Minutes
Release Date: November 16, 2018
Steve McQueen‘s Widows is not just a heist film. It’s a heist film with an empowering message, wrapped with social issues that continue to affect us today. It’s a phenomenal piece of work featuring women of color taking back the power. Though it has familiar heist tropes, Widows has plenty of depth, as well as twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat. Check out my full review below.
Widows starts off with a group of criminals pulling off a bank robbery led by Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson). Unfortunately, things do not go as planned for Harry and his crew who are killed by SWAT. This leaves Chicago Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who is running for alderman of the south side of Chicago, out $2 million. So he threatens Veronica (Viola Davis) to pay the $2 million that he lost or he will kill her. And he gets his mob enforcer brother Jatemme Manning (Daniel Kaluuya) to make sure she gets him the money he lost by the deadline.
Veronica doesn’t even have time to mourn the loss of what remains of her family. So she recruits the two other widows of Harry’s crew, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), a single mother of two kids, and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), a housewife, to help her pull off another one of Harry’s heists. Using information from one of Harry’s highly detailed notebooks, they target Manning’s political rival Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), who has enough capital to cover the $2 million she must repay plus interest. Realizing that they need more help, they add Belle (Cynthia Erivo) as the team’s wheelman.
One thing that makes this an unconventional heist thriller is the razor-sharp script written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn. Based on the TV show of the same name, Widows has the right amount of twist and turns that will keep you guessing. But it is so much more than just a heist movie. The film also provides a backstory to these widows that will have us sympathize with them and understand their motivations going into the heist. Linda’s mother-in-law blames her for the loss of her son. To add insult to injury, she says he would have had a better life not meeting her. While Linda manages to fire back at her mother-in-law, it is not enough to change her mind. So she is doing this to let her kids know that she just didn’t take it. She did something about it.
Alice has a different motivation. She was the victim of an abusive husband. Her mother (Jackie Weaver) taught her to believe that a woman must always serve a man and keep him happy. That sort of outdated thinking put a strain on her. It gets even worse when her mother suggests she work as an escort. But, this heist allows her to reclaim that lost power and helps redefine her as a person. Giving herself more worth than she believed.
The trouble with Widows is that even in its greatness there are a few notable flaws. One of those flaws comes from how overcrowded the film is with terrific actors. Davis, Debecki, and Kaluuya give standout performances in this. Davis is comes and delivers a knockout punch. While Veronica’s role as leader is a bit unfamiliar territory to her, she is set out to prove that she and her crew are not to be underestimated. Flashbacks to the family that she lost adds some humanity to her character and has us sympathize with her motivations. Debecki’s also plays a character with something to prove as she has been beaten both physically and emotionally. Then there is Kaluuya, who plays the cold and unnerving Jatemme. He takes far too much pleasure in seeing other people in pain and gives off a deathly stare that would paralyze anyone with fear.
Unfortunately, Erivo, Farrell, and Henry’s screen time seemed to be shortchanged. Though they are fascinating characters, they nearly don’t get enough time to develop. However, it’s clear that they have their own goals and motivations. Belle’s goals are more altruistic than others, which is something that everyone will have no trouble getting behind.
One of the most refreshing things about this unconventional heist film is how the other themes wrap nicely together. It is willing to explore the political corruption and underhanded deals politicians are willing to make in order to protect their families legacy or get rich. It’s clear that neither Jack or Jamal are running for the people, but rather for their own selfish reasons. Other social issues include a terrific tracking shot of the south side of Chicago as we follow Jack and his assistant (Molly Kunz) in a car. While they talk shop off screen, the car shows the thin line of socioeconomic disparity between one underdeveloped urban area and rich and lavish suburban community.
Widows gets even deeper by tackling the current issues that affect minorities and people of color. These are just a few thought-provoking moments that makes the film all the more stronger while maintaining its entertain value with the heist aspect.
As aforementioned, Widows is so much more than just a heist film. Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn give us something that has depth and emotion. It even manages to go deeper by bringing the harsh realities of political corruption, socioeconomic gap, and police brutality to life. It’s also a rare film that shows women of color taking back the power. A power that was taken away from them for variety of reasons. There’s a terrific cast, an engaging story, and an all too important message that needs to be heard. The social issues ground it while the powerful performances elevate the entertainment. All of that makes Widows a must-see film of the year.