Steve McQueen’s first feature in 5 years, co-written with Gillian Flynn, is a tense and psychologically complex heist thriller. A first for the acclaimed director, Widows balances elements the genre with a complex, in depth look at its cast of characters. Widows has action, violence and harrowing twists – but all at the core of the film are three characters going through emotional turmoil, and whose response to said turmoil drives the story.
Widows is about four women who have lost their husbands due to a heist gone wrong. Now due to these unforeseen circumstances they must unite to finish the job. This is a very brief and simple summary of the film, but it hides all the intricate details that make McQueen’s thriller such a good movie. Best to know as little as possible about the plot before watching the film. As a result I did my best to keep this review spoiler free.
Covering themes of the loss, betrayal and consequences – Widows is a layered and thoughtful film. Using the heist film set up as a way to examine broken relationships – whether it be between family, lovers or a city and its people – the screenwriters craft an interconnected web of pain. Motivated by circumstances that are out of their control, many characters in the film go to extremes to save themselves from what they see as unhappy circumstances. However, regardless of why someone does a bad thing, that action is still harmful to others and will ultimately have consequences. This makes for a powerful ending that avoids the clichés of the genre and makes Widows a far more grounded heist film.
There was not a single bad performance in this movie, with each actor – not matter how small the role – bringing life to an already intelligent script. Viola Davis is the easy standout as she portrays a woman who has experienced more pain in her life than one could possibly imagine. It is a subtle performance that captures the characters as written. Debicki and Rodriguez similarly portray women going through an intense period of grief, each bringing subtle nuances to how they interpret the characters. Debicki’s character has the largest transformation of all and her performance compliments the writing beautifully. Daniel Kaluuya plays a violent monster that causes nothing but hurt during his time on screen. Bringing a sense of charisma and charm to the role, Kaluuya’s performance is outstanding. Collin Farrell’s performance is fine, but he is given one scene in the film where his acting is incredible. I mean, overall, it is a good performance but that one scene is the actor at his best.
Technically this film is a marvel, with the color pallet perfectly capturing the tone of Widows and providing a dreary, almost hopeless, atmosphere. McQueen’s direction is excellent, with his wonderful camera work standing out throughout the film’s duration. It adds to the tension inherent in the script, which – when coupled with a fantastic score – leaves the audience on the edge of their seats.
Widows touches greatness but still falters in some respects. Filled with numerous plot points and a large cast of characters with varying degrees of significance to the story – Widows does at times leave certain elements of the story underdeveloped. One example would be that in comparison to her cohorts and fellow Widows, Michelle Rodriguez’s character does not receive as much attention or development when compared to the other leading ladies. A small complaint considering how tightly plotted the script is, with McQueen and Flynn ensuring that every detail – not matter how small – is integral to the larger story. In fact, this is a film largely devoid of exposition dump scenes, where details that flesh out each character and their relationships are naturally sewn into the dialogue and key visuals.
The film does offer some references to present day social ills which forms the background over-which this movie takes place. They never over-power the narrative and add a layer to the film that — along with the complex characters — make it more than just a generic heist film. Admittedly many of the comments on American society serve as humorous moments that are not relevant to the film’s core themes, but a political corruption sub-plot is very well-handled and adds a sens of melancholy to the film’s third act.
McQueen created a film in Widows that exemplifies why people love the thriller genre, but also brings enough humanity to the work that the story is elevated beyond what audiences are used to seeing.
Widows hits theatres on November 16, 2018.