On paper there was nothing about the story of “Widows” that interested me. A heist movie about a heist that goes fatally bad. Then the widows of the men killed in the heist plan a heist of their own. Obviously that is a very basic (and admittedly unfair) reading of it but story-wise I didn’t see much to get excited about.
But it’s amazing how a compelling director and a stellar cast can dramatically change your outlook. Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) handles the directing duties but also co-writes alongside Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”). With that kind of talent working the pens you expect the story to have more going on than a mere surface reading would reveal. That’s definitely the cased for “Widows” although it does have a few kinks.
The film opens with seasoned thief Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his crew being killed after a botched robbery turns violent. The always fabulous Viola Davis stars as Veronica, Harry’s widow. Turns out Harry swiped $2 million from Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), a Chicago mob boss running for alderman in a Southside precinct. He needs his money back to fund his campaign against his equally crooked but politically established opponent Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell).
Manning and his cold-blooded strong-arm Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) begin pressing Veronica giving her three days to get their money or clearly something bad will happen. Her only out is to pull off a heist of her own and to do so she rounds up two of the widows from Harry’s crew, Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez). They later recruit Belle whose played by a terrific but terrible underused Cynthia Erivo.
Most of the film takes place as they get ready for the heist, but it doesn’t focus specifically on that. Instead McQueen uses this time the flesh out these women (some better than others). Their actual heist prep gets the back-burner treatment and ends up being thrown together a little too neatly. McQueen does a good job of making this more than a simple heist film but in doing so he shortchanges the very elements of the heist.
Time is also spent on a subplot that explores dirty municipal politics and the plays for power by Manning and Mulligan. They battle for influential endorsements and each manipulates the lower income voter base for their own reasons. Manning wants to extend his criminal control, Mulligan is pushed by his loathsome father (Robert Duvall in a nostalgic but lightweight role) to preserve their family’s long run of political standing.
Davis is the perfect person to anchor the film and its swirl of moving parts. She provides a strong emotional center and some of the film’s best scenes are of Veronica alone dealing with her pent-up anger and unrelenting grief. The other women also hand in good performances especially the often underappreciated Debicki.
McQueen gets good work from the supporting gents as well. Henry is particularly good as a figure who’s both persuasive and intimidating. Farrell is very convincing as a wealthy political slimeball. Kaluuya is handed the more crowd-pleasing role. There is practically no complexity to his character whatsoever. He’ll pop up throughout the film, each time just for a moment, and then he’s gone. I do wish he had more depth, but he’s very effective as a chilling and ruthless killer.
“Widows” may frame itself as a heist movie but it can hardly be put in that box. McQueen has a much broader aim and his film touches on a lot of different things. It’s loaded with subtle (and some not so subtle) statements on politics, race, economic standing, crime, and even a wedged in critique of police brutality. Some are more effective than others. The film is strongest when telling the women’s story – about their fight through systems stacked against them to carry out their mission. Unfortunately some of that story gets lost amid McQueen’s ambition.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS
I really think it’s one of the best films of 2018 so far. I was enthralled by not just some of the technical aspects of it but also its exploration of social classes and politics all surrounding these four women who have no experience in carrying out a heist yet had to learn the ropes.
I think it worked best when it’s focus was on them. I didn’t think it was as effective once it started branching out into other subplots. And I really wanted more of Erivo.
Sounds like he was trying to do too much. The best story is the simplest told. 😉
He definitely wanted to cover a lot of ground. And you are so right. Sometimes simple is best.
It has a lot going on and it’s never boring.
Hmmm I dunno. I saw it a little worse personally, the politicking seemed pointless to me, the talk of wards and whatnot went right over my head. Perhaps there is a connection I am missing, I am rather thick. I did think tho that only Viola and the short haired running girl seemed like actual people, and even then the latter was pretty thin. The others felt reeeeally one-note. It was cool how into detail they went cos of her husband, but it was a bit… dare I say boring?
The heist tho was awwwwesomely executed, but it seemed like it was over before it began! I would have loved to have seen more of Kaluyaa’s (sp) character too, he was great.
Now its out on BR I’m gonna give it another watch and write about it.
Though I still have a TOOON to watch cos I wanna do a top ten or somethin, they are fun. But I was lazy and now I have all these films sitting here. Roma, Zama, Beale St, Mandy, Wild Pear Tree. I know they will all be great (I’ve seen Mandy once but MUST see it again :P). And the list goes on, my post will probably end up going up in May!!! Either that or I just bloody put down that there were some big ones I missed.
Damn I overthink stuff!
Oh and I don’t think I saw it on here, did you see Gaspar Noe’s new flick? I think its easily his most cohesive and best film. I’m working on a review of it now, though I think one more watch can’t hurt!!
Its hitting retail bluray on the 11th, check it out! 🙂
Goddamn sorry for the massive reply, it seems to be what I do to everyone
I think there are some characters who are definitely underserved. I also think you right on the political storyline. I would much rather that time go towards the women. As you mentioned, a couple of them really could have used it.
I knocked out my Top 10 pretty early this year. Surprised at how many films opened at just the right time here.
Oh, and haven’t seen Noe’s film. I’ll be on the lookout.
Noe’s new one is…. well, the themes are unsurprising. But yeah I found it to be his most cohesive film, and most accessible too. Still confronting though, and his presentation never disappointing. Amazing cinematography
I missed your top ten, I need to go back and have a look.
And yeah agreed, there needed to be more time spent on the women in Widows, If he’d done that and ditched the political stuff it woulda been a better film I think.
I’ll be sure to give it a look. Thanks for the recommendation!
if anything it is entertaining 🙂
I’m really glad you gave Widows a chance – I ended up missing it at the cinema so I’ve only recently seen it myself. I got a little lost in all the politics at first but once I’d got my head straight I really enjoyed it. It could have been such a mediocre movie with a different cast!
So true. A different cast could have really botched this. I really needed to see it again before posting a review. I found myself appreciating it more a second time.
I liked this too and I’m glad you watched it. I hate how poorly it did at the U.S Box Office when it was such a well made film. At the time I thought for sure Debicki would be getting an oscar nomination.
It seemed that for a while Debicki had a pretty big backing for a nomination. Not sure what happened. She wouldn’t be among my five best supporting nods but she was very good. And while it didn’t push my Top 20 I am surprised that it was completely overlooked by the Academy. I feels like something Oscar would like.
Duvall was so hammy in this movie he made laugh out loud in that scene where he surprised them in his pyjamas. I thought the script was all over the place and ironically there was so little focus on titular characters. The dog owned the film
Exactly! McQueen tried to cover too many things and as you said, the main characters ended up not getting the attention they deserved. I did love seeing Duvall, but his whole character angle wasn’t great.
Yeah the subplots were too distracting. He’s in the news for other reasons right now, but i found the extra clips of Neeson and Davis together a waste when other characters could be given more. And totally about Erivo. A revelation.
I don’t know. I kinda liked the Neeson/Davis moments mainly because they were her flashbacks and fed into her feelings of loss. And Erivo??? How did she not get more screen time???
We disagree on the flashbacks but can go double on quits on her for sure. She was a revelation. I’d be keen to see her in other stuff. Normally when Viola Davis is in a movie I just rave about her but I’m not sure what I can add anyhow.
Viola is a legitimate leading lady. She brings so much heart and soul to her performances. I’m guessing you haven’t seen “Fences”?
Thank you for your interesting review! I didn’t enjoy the movie as much as you did, I must admit (for me there were more than a few kinks!)… I wrote about it here, if you want to have a look at my thoughts:
Thanks for the link. I’ll definitely check it out. I liked it but wasn’t blown away like many people were. I think if it would have condensed its focus it would have turned out better.
I fully agree with you, actually, there are too many things in that movie!