Movie Review: Widows.
Director Steve McQueen gets a fantastic crew together to pull off his daring heist film.
I had very high hopes for Widows. I was not disappointed. As a fan of heist films, Widows scratches all of the right itches while doing its own thing. It’s clever, has a nice twist in the middle, and makes its violence feel weighty and earned. It relies less on the slick dialogue and maneuverings of a Soderbergh caper and more on the gritty and emotionally charged actions of its characters. Here, the film delivers in spades as Viola Davis leads a great cast of well written characters. If you’re looking for a crime drama with real heft, Widows is for you.
Four career criminals are ambushed in a set-up after pulling off a politically motivated robbery. Two feuding politicians, a slick suit from a family of political operators (Colin Farrell) and a former crime boss looking to get into a more legitimate form of graft (Bryan Tyree Henry) both put the screws to the widows of the criminals, looking to recoup the money and recover the incriminating diary kept by the crew’s leader (Liam Neeson). Out of options, the wife of the crew’s boss (Viola Davis) puts together her own team from the widows left behind in order to get the money and leverage they need to destroy the men threatening them.
Get a Crew Together.
One hallmark of the heist genre is assembling a stellar cast. From the Rat Pack to the star studded rosters of the Ocean’s franchise, it’s become imperative to pack the roster with A-listers. Steve McQueen certainly assembles a collection of talent, but opts to go for power over prestige. Viola Davis is certainly a big name, but she’s a big name because she eats difficult roles for breakfast. She easily pulls off the lead here, tough as nails in front of her crew but affectingly vulnerable as she processes the grief of losing her husband. The rest of her crew is solid, and I was surprised at the depth Elizabeth Debicki brought to her role, which could easily have been written and portrayed as just a pretty face like her role in The Great Gatsby. I was not at all surprised that Cynthia Erivo is a mountain of dynamite in her role, as I loved her performance in Bad Times at the El Royale.
Besides the main crew, the supporting roles are fantastically robust. Collin Farrell is really staking a claim on the “morally grey scumbag who is actually decent underneath” role. Similar to his turn in Roman J. Israel Esq, he manages to give the stereotypical ruthless power-player role real nuance. Opposite this, Daniel Kaluuya plays a delightfully ruthless baddie as the younger brother/enforcer to Henry’s more restrained criminal character. Each role is carefully filled and well written, pointing to dedication on McQueen’s part to every detail.
Almost without a Hitch.
Widows separates itself further from recent heist films by being less interested in the technical wizardry of its big robbery than in the human drama surrounding it. As such, the heist itself is well done but not mind blowing. The real charm is all of the leg work that goes into it, and seeing the widows improvise a lifetime’s worth of criminal instincts on the fly. While I do love cute heist plots that turn on delicious twists, Widows approach really lets you see the emotional and mental core of the characters by devoting so much time to the set-up. My only gripe for the film is that the resolution of the film feels too simple. It feels much less realistic and grounded when compared to the rest of the film.
Widows is a gritty and emotional crime drama cemented by phenomenal performances. As a heist film, its better than average, opting not to dazzle with overly clever subterfuge or dazzling set pieces. In its setting and execution, the crime at the heart of the film remains as down-to-earth as the characters. McQueen also weaves in social issues into the film in deft ways, supporting the attachment we get to our leads. Crime, politics, race, police brutality all deepen the feeling of a lived-in world. I’ve rarely seen so much setting and character development done so artfully and unobtrusively in a feature film. It reminds me more of a season of The Wire than the breezy maneuverings of an Ocean’s 11 film. If you want something with real characters and real bite, Widows is going to be perfect for you.