By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Steve McQueen returns with new heist movie Widows, a timely and thrilling outing featuring a talented, and mainly female ensemble cast, led by the incredible Viola Davis.
Directed by Oscar winner Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Shame), Widows focuses on four women who, led by Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis), organise a new heist to pay back the money their dead husbands stole from corrupt Chicago politician Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry).
It’s clear from the very beginning that this is a movie about women. The crew of men led by big name action faces including Liam Neeson and Jon Bernthal are quickly dispatched in a heist that goes terribly wrong, and it’s then that things get interesting.
Based on the book by Lynda La Plante and a screenplay by the great Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects), Widows is a class thriller that thrives off wonderful performances from some of the strongest women in the industry right now. Viola Davis is captivating as the grieving widow but also holds the group of misfits together with pure gumption and a survivalist attitude.
Michelle Rodriguez’s ‘Linda’ is left in a similar mess of debt with children and a shop thrown into the equation, but the most interesting character is by far Elizabeth Debicki’s ‘Alice’. Alice’s lanky and stereotypical ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype steadily becomes one of the strongest in the group, while also giving a bit of comic relief to a story that could otherwise be totally drab. There’s a hilarious scene when the trophy wife attempts to buy firearms, bringing to light the absolute ridiculousness of America’s current gun crisis.
Spoiling the heist however, are Jamal Manning’s nasty henchmen which include chief thug Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya). Despite Sean Bobbit’s engaging cinematography which propels that brilliant tension to the explosive final act, Kaluuya is just never really on form. The actor has two faces, angry or angrier. Although, I’m generally not a fan of his work in general so others may think differently.
Tied up in the mess is prominent white politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) and his aging conservative father played by Robert Duvall. Farrell’s ability to tackle an accent is always impressive and the actor thrives in the role even if he doesn’t get too much screen time.
The politics here do become a vehicle to deliver many of America’s problems right now and it feels a little contrived at times. The film touches on domestic abuse, police brutality, racism and more. Although timely, it sometimes gets in the way of the film’s second half, which is more of an action movie.
One thing that annoyed me however, is that fourth widow Carrie Coon (The Leftovers, Fargo) is criminally wasted here. The actress plays little more than a housewife and plot device. A shame because she’s probably the most talented cast member. Somebody needs to give her a leading role already.
Surprisingly, Widows didn’t strike me in the way that McQueen’s last two films did. Despite it being a well executed thriller that moves along at a steady pace, it lacked that feeling of urgency and intensity that was in his previous films. But as an entertaining action movie, it works well. It feels like a more superior Ocean’s 8.