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.
Steve McQueen’s filmmaking efforts to date have dealt with weighty, often political themes, looking at hunger strikes (‘Hunger’), sex addiction (‘Shame’) and slavery (’12 Years a Slave’), so ‘Widows’ marks a refreshing change of pace to a certain extent. This is a superbly entertaining rollercoaster ride of a movie, and perhaps its biggest achievement is in how McQueen manages to balance the requisite elements of a heist movie with a lot of substance through a secondary plot focusing on an important political election. Based on a long forgotten 80s BBC miniseries, ‘Widows’ centres on a group of women who work together to complete a heist started by their deceased husbands. It is a gripping, twisty movie that had me engrossed from the get go, aided by a terrific ensemble cast led by an imperious display from Viola Davis as Veronica Rawlins.
When Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) doesn’t come home one night from a job, Veronica already knows what has happened. The same experience is happening to Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Amanda (Carrie Coon), the partners of Harry’s crew members, in different parts of Chicago. It turns out that the robbery that led to their deaths involved a local crime boss and wannabe politician (Bryan Tyree Henry), and it doesn’t take long for him to come round looking to recover his losses, forcing Veronica into a perilous situation. The screenplay was written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (the author of ‘Gone Girl’), and ‘Widows’ shares the same deliriously entertaining kind of plotting and pacing that made that film one of my favourites of 2014. The secondary narrative focusing on an election race between Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the son of incumbent Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall), and Tyree Henry’s Jamal dovetails neatly with the main plot, adding a socio-political backdrop to proceedings. I particularly liked a great sequence from outside Mulligan’s car as he drives from one political engagement to another, with the camerawork showing the transition from poverty to prosperity in one clever shot as Mulligan is driven across Chicago.
McQueen’s main achievement with ‘Widows’ is how he manages to keep so many plates spinning successfully, with every scene and plot element serving the overarching plot and themes of the movie without it ever feeling overstuffed. I found the characters worth rooting for and the big moments feel earned (one line that comes off corny in the trailer is a real fist punching moment in the film itself), and even the villains of the piece felt fully formed with realistic motivations. The Chicago McQueen paints is a murky world, both in terms of the politicians and the criminals, and the narrative isn’t afraid to go to some dark places as the story plays out, which makes the ‘wins’ for Veronica all the more satisfying.
‘Widows’ is a sharply written, exciting heist thriller that marries a terrific take on the genre with an intelligence not always found in traditional mainstream fare and I had an absolute blast watching it.
Directed By: Steve McQueen
Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Bryan Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Garret Dillahunt, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Michael Harney, Lukas Haas, Matt Walsh, Kevin J. O’Connor and Liam Neeson