From the man who brought us Shame with Michael Fassbender and 12 Years A Slave comes Steve McQueen’s latest film, Widows, which has been received by critics a lot more favorably than your average film fan. Since I am both, I was a bit apprehensive going into this film. The reaction by film-goers has been harshly negative as much as it has been lauded by critics. Widows is a very busy film with a lot of subplots woven throughout the fabric of the film. You have to stay with this film and its premise. All of the stories intersect and tell the lives of these characters, so we understand their motivation. As long as you know that going in, I hope you will find Widows as fantastic as I found it to be.
I won’t divulge too much of the plot but suffice to say, Widows starts out with a group of thieves fleeing a heist gone horribly wrong. Led by Harry (Liam Neeson), he and his entire crew are killed by police along and their stolen loot of about two million dollars is incinerated in the process. Harry’s widow, Veronica (Viola Davis, who deserves some Oscar attention for her performance in this film) is visited by the local gangster, Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry). It seems it was HIS money that Harry and his crew stole and she has one month to pay the two million back, or else. Jamale’s reprehensible brother and goon enforcer, Jatamme (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) will be paying them another visit, one way or another.
Veronica is given a key to a safety box by her driver, Bash (Garret Dillahunt). In the box is Harry’s journal of every job he has ever pulled and one final job worth five million dollars, enough to pay off Jamal and start a new life. Veronica knows she will need help and enlists the help of the other widows of Harry’s crew. She knows eventually the real bad guys will work their way down to them, too. Since the other widows are in the same boat financially as Veronica they agree to go in on the final job.
There is an elaborate scheme involving the local Mayor’s race which includes Jamal and the longtime family of the Mulligans, first led by Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall) and now being headed up by his son, Jack (Colin Farrell). It is all connected in an intricate way to the heist but it is all captivating from start to finish. The script, penned by McQueen, Gillian Flynn from a story by Lynda La Plante, crackles with smart dialogue and there is not one weak performance in the mix. Even the supporting performances are terrific.
Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) is one of the widows and she is the abused wife of Florek (Jon Bernthal), one of Harry’s crew. He is a particularly unpleasant bloke who mocks the shiner he is responsible for over his breakfast while he tells her he loves her. Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) has her own business, unbeknownst to her, that is about to go bankrupt thanks to the gambling debts her ex-hubby has run up. They enlist the help of Linda’s sitter, Belle (Cynthia Erivo) who also is a hair stylist, just trying to make ends meet. Belle is hired as “the driver” after a particularly startling revelation is unveiled a little over half way through this film. A revelation I will not say further about but suffice to say, it is big.
As I said, there is not one wasted character in Widows and the acting is superb. McQueen’s direction is deliberate but even paced. This is a film you simply have to keep paying attention to because everything is revealed at the climax. It all makes sense, trust me. But up until that point, Widows is a richly cultivated film that really develops these characters into real people. Nothing is forced or overplayed. This is the kind of film I am starved for and we clamor for. If I had to describe this film, think of a female version of Michael Mann’s Heat. But don’t let that scare you off. There is a lot of testosterone in Widows to keep you interested, too.
Widows is also a beautifully shot film by long time McQueen collaborating cinematographer, Sean Bobbitt and for once, Hans Zimmer provides a sparse but effective score that does not overwhelm the film. His bombastic percussion based scores are kept in check in Widows and it works beautifully. I mean, he only has about twenty-five minutes of score music but what Zimmer is able to accomplish with that short amount of score is truly amazing.
If I had one complaint, it would be that one character, Amanda (Carrie Coon) is a bit under developed. She is an integral part of this film and something she does affects the film’s plot but she is given a scant few moments on screen. I have long been a fan of Carrie Coon since her days in the limited HBO series, The Leftovers. Don’t get me wrong, her performance is solid but I would have liked to see more of her in this film. Having said that, Widows is a meaty mix of crime and double crosses, smartly written and acted.
McQueen is a director who knows exactly what he is doing and knows exactly the kind of story he wants to tell. He has enough faith in his ability to tell the story his way and enough faith in the audience to stick with it. As long as you know that Widows is a lot more than just action and that there is a point to the way the story unfolds on screen, then Widows won’t go wasted on you. McQueen is a gusty director who takes chances with risky projects, projects that could end up being disastrous. Widows is no exception but it works and is one of 2018’s best films.
Widows – ****1/2 out of five
Widows – Rated R for some language, nudity and graphic violence.
Widows – Run time is 129 minutes
Widows is now available on DVD, On Demand and pay subscription services. Check your local listings for pricing and availability.