Over his rather short feature film career, British director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Hunger) has shown that he will not be pigeonholed. Meaning that he has dipped his toe in several different film genre pools. His first film was about Bobby Sands, an Irish Republican who was arrested then staged a hunger strike. Next up was Shame, about a man with a particular private life who has to adjust when his sister enters his life. Third time was a charm with 12 Years a Slave, a story about a free black man who is abducted and sold into slavery. Now, with his fourth film McQueen turns in another 180 type maneuver. Widows sees three women, who are all left widows when their criminal husbands are killed, with nothing in common coming together to do something no one would have expected of them.
McQueen is just a storyteller. Actually, I should not say “just”. Being able to convey a story within a short period that has people engaged is quite a skill. It is a skill that McQueen has in spades. No matter the subject or era. This time he is using the shell of a thriller to delve into the world of feminism. Women’s roles in society. What they do. What they are thought to do. How they are seen. Then what actually they are capable of. How women try to carve out their own space in this world of male domination. It also touches upon subjects such as race, political corruption and dealing with loss. Themes abound here. The director has plenty of balls to juggle and he proves himself more than capable. Yet again.
A criminal collective’s members are all killed when a job goes terribly wrong. These life long criminals leave behind their wives. Who are now widows. Widows who all find themselves in different kinds of trouble. What Veronica (Viola Davis – Fences, The Help), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez – Fast & Furious 8, Resident Evil: Retribution) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki – Everest, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2) do have in common is money troubles. For various reasons, they all need some quickly. Without any real guidance other than a notebook which Veronica’s husband Harry (Liam Neeson – The Commuter, Daddy’s Home Two) left behind, the women band together to pull off a heist.
A heist in the city of Chicago which will plunge them into the lives of gangsters and politicians. Politicians like Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell – The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and gangsters/politicians like Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry – If Beale Street Could Talk, White Boy Rick). A world they know precious little about. The learning curve is going to be steep…and dangerous.
The script of the film has been co-written by McQueen and author Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Dark Places). It is an adaptation of the British 1983 miniseries of the same name. They have woven some dark humour in together with a more stereotypical thriller plot. This could have easily been a throwaway action flick which people would have forgotten about almost as soon as they left the theatre. Instead this is one which involves several serious issues that will occupy your brain at the same time which the action will get your pulse racing.
As for the ensemble cast once again Viola Davis rules the roost. The woman can do no wrong. Tackling any type of character she brings a realism, gravitas and watchability to whatever she does. I am sure she will be once again in the discussion when it comes to Oscar nomination time. The two younger actresses really stood out for me. Michelle Rodriguez has built her career upon the Fast and Furious series and other action type films. Here she gets to stretch her acting muscles a little and shows that she can do more than the tough girl roles. Elizabeth Debicki, who I was not really familiar with before Widows, takes Alice and brings her beyond the one dimensional character she could have been in lesser hands.
The only complaint I have is that the film is a touch too long. There were several moments in which I thought the 2 hour and 9 minute film could have stood with some trimming.