Widows Review

“Widows” doesn’t feel like the film you follow up Best Picture winner “12 Years a Slave” with, but thriller genre fans will graciously accept the talents of Steve McQueen anyway. In tandem with “Gone Girl” author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn, McQueen delivers a crooked Chicago crime story with fully-formed characters, noteworthy performances and lots of powerful visual drama.

When their criminal husbands are killed on the job and their lives ripped out from under them, a group of desperate women agree to pull off the next heist on their list. Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) aren’t so much mourning their partners as much their futures, and Veronica is in particular trouble, stuck amdist a power struggle between a corrupt Chicago alderman (Colin Farrell) and his crime boss challenger (Brian Tyree Henry).

Filling out the large ensemble cast are Liam Neeson, Daniel Kaluuya, Cynthia Erivo, Jacki Weaver, Robert Duvall and several more. A film with that many characters should probably fall short at creating intimacy, but the direction, writing and lead performances manage to say a lot with a little. At the least, the widows themselves are done right, while some of the peripheral pieces on the Chicago chess board are sometimes neglected and a little more one-dimensional.

“Widows” avoids getting lost in the political milieu of a city like Chicago, but doesn’t avoid it either. There’s enough to explore the filth and hypocrisy, including a single take from the hood of a car that shows just how quickly Farrell’s Alderman Mulligan can get from a poor black part of his ward to the cushy, suburban-like block where he lives. At the same time, it’s not enough attention to really become a film about urban reform, just to create a context for the story, one which echoes the moral choice these women are forced to make. Black and white, good and bad—these forces don’t really live in this world.

All the film’s stars are adept at straddling good and bad. Think of the virtuous and villainous roles played by Davis, Neeson, Farrell, Kaluuya and even Rodriguez and Debicki in their careers. The film needs us to believe them when their characters shift to one side or the other. “Widows” becomes most enjoyable once you give up trying to sort the good guys from the bad, which is normally a typical exercise in heist movies and thrillers.

With McQueen behind the camera, “Widows” feels a lot weightier than its peers. As was all too apparent in “12 Years a Slave,” the use of violence is shocking; McQueen has a way of removing the desensitization we usually experience in a film like this when someone is shot or attacked. In his films, it’s serious. It’s hard to say what he does stylistically that achieves that affect, or if it’s simply another byproduct of his talent at forming tangible and deeply human characters.

“Widows” isn’t as strong a drama as McQueen’s other work, and other heist films have been more gripping and compelling, but this hybrid of heist and crime drama counteracts the deficiencies and clichés and both genres. Not since some of Ben Affleck’s earlier directorial efforts and maybe even Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” have we gotten this successful of a fusion, and McQueen’s film is more “woke” than all of them

4/5 Stars

Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Gillian Flynn & Steve McQueen, Lynda La Plante (novel)
Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry


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