Directed by: Steve McQueen
Premise: Based on the novel by Lynda La Plante. A group of male thieves are killed while stealing $2 million from a Chicago gangster. The wives of the deceased thieves must pull off their own heist in order to pay him back.
What Works: Widows is simultaneously a throwback to a kind of movie that Hollywood used to make on the regular – thrillers intended for a mature audience – and a contemporary picture that is in touch with the filmmaking and cultural sensibilities of this moment. This is an example of filmmakers working within a familiar genre and then elevating the material through superior writing, craftsmanship, and performances. Widows is made with style. Director Steve McQueen, who made a name for himself with edgy but beautifully crafted films like 12 Years a Slave and Shame, brings his talents to bear and creates sequences that are visually sophisticated but also have visceral impact. McQueen co-wrote the screenplay with Gillian Flynn (from the novel by Lynda La Plante) and the story is a complex web of relationships. This isn’t just a robbery. The story of Widows involves political corruption as well as race, class, and gender issues and those themes are assimilated into the story in a way that feels organic and adds depth and texture to this film. Widows also has nuanced characterizations of its primary characters. The film is led by Viola Davis as the spouse of the leader of the deceased criminal crew. Her performance is defined by grief balanced by a fierce determination to survive and Davis plays her character as tough but also flawed and therefore accessible. Davis is accompanied by Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki as women whose husbands left them in a jam. Each widow has a unique backstory and through them the filmmakers represent different aspects of womanhood. The filmmakers have an intelligent regard for the way these women navigate a man’s world. That defines who these women are, making each of them distinct, and the gender politics gives their heist some added meaning.
What Doesn’t: Widows is far departed from movies like Ocean’s 11. Because it approaches this material a little differently than the average heist film, Widows doesn’t give the audience the same sort of pleasures usually associated with this genre. It isn’t about the meticulous planning or the thrill of stealing. This is a character piece, exploring the lives of several women within the context of a heist story. Widows slows down in the middle. The film starts with an energetic opening and sets up a ticking clock scenario but the tension remains relatively flat from that point forward. The pressure doesn’t intensify as the movie gets to the climax.
Bottom Line: Widows takes a pulpy premise and adds depth and complexity as well as style and craft. This may not deliver the heist thrills of a genre picture but it is a smart film with terrific performances.
Episode: #727 (December 2, 2018)