Widows Review

Steve McQueen is one of the most interesting directors working today. With Hunger, Shame and 12 Years a Slave you’re guaranteed a fascinating film with McQueen’s involvement. That, combined with him working with Gillian Flynn (the author behind Gone Girl) made Widows one of my most anticipated films of the year. The idea of Steve McQueen doing a heist film was exciting, especially with the outstanding cast he assembled and the finished product warranted my excitement.

The film follows a group of women (Veronica, Alice and Linda) whose husbands, all career criminals, die when a job they are doing goes wrong. When Veronica is faced with having to pay back Jamal Manning, the man whose money her husband stole, she gets access to his book detailing the plans for his next heist and recruits Alice and Linda to carry out the job with her, later recruiting Bella, the babysitter of Linda’s kids. At the same time, we see that Manning is in a bitter political race with Jack Mulligan, a member of one of the most powerful political dynasties in Chicago and an associate of Veronica’s husband, with this providing motivation for why Manning wants the money back. Now the story for the film is based on an ITV series from the 1980s (with a few members of the audience I saw the film with reminiscing about watching the series when it was first out) so there was the lingering doubt that there would be issues with adapting the series into a film and, whilst there are elements in the ending that I wish were given more screen time, the pacing of the film works wonders. The way McQueen and Flynn build tension throughout the film in the script, setting up elements of the heist in subtle ways as early and often as they can. This kind of attention to detail in the way the film is structured is something that will help repeat viewings.

What works especially well though is the thematic weight of the film. For as much as this is a great action film, it being a Steve McQueen film, there is a lot of weight to the film. I don’t want to go to much into detail but there are fascinating ideas about the difficulty of dealing with grief, the financial issues that effect married women because of a societal structure that values their husbands more, a political system that denigrates the black population and places more value on white people who give lip service to helping black people, police discrimination of minorities, female camaraderie, the fetishisation of guns in America and the way women are commodified and the societal structures that enable this. In the hands of lesser talents, all these themes of the film could have buckled under themselves, but the balance McQueen and Flynn create makes sure that all these themes are given time to breathe and develop, making the film a much richer experience.

The performances too are excellent. Viola Davis is just a force of nature in this film. There’s a power that she brings to the role that lets you understand why she’s the leader and how she was able to convince the other women to go along with the heist, along with showing the difficulty in dealing with her grief. Michelle Rodriguez is great at showing the balancing act she has with the heist prep and her family, along with her intelligence at gathering intel whilst Elizabeth Debicki uses her physicality well, using her height to her advantage whilst still making her feel small compared to Davis when they first meet until she gains more confidence in herself when her height is used more clearly and Cynthia Erivo is effective at showing the financial pressures she faces, working multiple jobs to support a daughter she barely gets to see. Colin Farrell meanwhile is great at showing the pressure he faces on a political level, wanting to get away from the political life and the dynasty he’s part of and feeling so much pressure on his shoulders whilst also showing a corrupt nature to his character, which works well when paired with Robert Duvall as his dad who is just a vile character, filled with self righteous entitlement and wanting everyone to bow to him rather than follow their own path. Brian Tyree Henry is great at showing how tired he is with his former life in crime and his desire to go straight in the world of politics but never being fully able to escape, whilst Daniel Kaluuya is scary as Henry’s brother/enforcer showing him as a ticking clock where any action around him could be your last, using silence and his eyes to build a terrifying presence. Solid work is also seen from Liam Neeson, Carrie Coon, Jackie Weaver, Lukas Haas and Kevin J O’Connor in smaller roles.

The technical side of the film is impressive as well. There’s this slickness to the shooting of the heist which gives the film a solid pace throughout, always making sure the key elements are highlighted and you are never bored, accentuated through excellent music, both the soundtrack and Hans Zimmer’s score. The direction and cinematography meanwhile add to the thematic weight of the film, highlighting the way the rest of society sees the women as lesser to show the advantage of using their gender for the heist and the way Davis is shot just has her dominate the screen to reflect the power she has. The best work though is through the way the film shoots Chicago, making sure the Green Line train is constantly in the background as both a plot device for Farrell’s character and a show of the way the poor, black neighbourhoods of Chicago are cut off from the rest of the city, with the best shot in the film being a long take where we hear a conversation Farrell is having in a car, but the camera is outside and we see the transition, in real time, from the poor black neighbourhood to the rich, white neighbourhood nearby (that are in the same electoral ward, a reason why the dynasty has been in power for so long until the electoral districts were redrawn), with this being an effective show of class and race disparity when the areas are minutes away from each other and the way these areas, despite being located in close physical distance, are separated from each other.

Overall, Widows is a brilliant film and another reminder of why Steve McQueen is such a strong director. He turns a heist film into one of the most thematically rich films of the year and, whilst I wish some of these themes were given a bit more time, particularly at the end which felt a little rushed to me, like there was another scene that was cut out, it doesn’t detract from the power of the film as a whole.

My Rating: 4.5/5

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