Review: Widows

In Widows, Steve McQueen puts together an amazing ensemble cast for a thrilling crime drama.

What’s Going On?

I have always thought of Steve McQueen as an ambitious and confident director and not just because of his films, this a man who shares the name of a Hollywood legend and was not worried about permanently being called The Other Steve McQueen. McQueen’s latest film starts with the viewer being introduced to each member of a crew who is about to undertake a daring robbery lead by Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson). The brief glimpse into each of their family lives before the heist shows a not entirely sympathetic group of people. Things do not go to plan and Rawlings and the entire team are killed by the police. That is still just the beginning as the film is not really about Rawlings and his crew but the people they leave behind.

Viola Davis star’s as Veronica, Rawlings’ widow, who while still reeling from the death of her husband is visited by the criminals who were robbed and even though the money was destroyed they expect Veronica to pay it back.  The one thing of real value Rawlings left Veronica was his notebook on all his planned heists and with that Veronica plans to steal the money she needs, bringing in the other widows from the gang.

There is an ongoing B plot of an upcoming election for alderman between Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) and Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry), Mulligan being the son of the previous alderman and part of a political dynasty that has controlled the politics of the area for generations and Manning the very criminal who threatens Veronica. But while Manning may be the more obvious criminal it becomes very clear that Mulligan and his family are far from innocent.

Behind The Scenes

Steve McQueen is known for serious weighty dramas, 12 Years A Slave winning the Best Picture Oscar in 2014, and so Widows does feel like quite a departure. When watching the trailer my first thought was “I just have to see a Steve McQueen heist film” just to see what he would come up with. Widows is based on a Linda La Plate British TV show from the 1980s and while I hadn’t heard of it does seem to be well-regarded. Gillian Flynn, of Gone Girl fame, wrote the screenplay and the pair of McQueen and Flynn sets expectations high.

In Front Of The Camera

The cast McQueen has put together is amazing, casting great actors like Jacki Weaver, Liam Neeson and Robert Duvall in relatively small roles. The key trio of Veronica, Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) as the eponymous Widows hold the film together well with each of them adding immensely to the story, each with their own struggles and reasons for getting involved. Viola Davis is very convincing as a woman who had nothing to do with her husband’s criminal enterprises but rather than giving up or running wants to take back control of her life. Elizabeth Debicki stands out for the transformation her character goes on finding previously untapped reserves of strength. Michelle Rodriguez plays a little against type, being the most hesitant but also with the most to lose. Importantly, none of the women are ignorant of their husbands’ careers, even if not active participants.

Does It Work?

The film is very enjoyable with great performances all round and the two plots dovetail neatly in the conclusion. The film is suffused with the grim reality for all those within it and even Mulligan’s much more prosperous family are shown to be very much entangled in dark goings-on. Each of the three widows convincingly portrays women who are in dire straits and are willing to risk prison or even death to give themselves a chance.

McQueen is a brilliant director and easily handles the large cast and the quick plot developments easily. There are moments of real tension, particularly around Daniel Kaluuya who plays Manning’s brutal but keen on self-improvement enforcer. For a film that starts with the fiery death of four characters, there isn’t a great deal of violence in the film with just a few brutal and short scenes containing most of it. McQueen also gets as much tension out of the corrupt political machinations as the gunfights.

It is debatable if there are any “good guys” in this film. Even though you are rooting for Veronica and her team they are not entirely innocent and when faced with difficult times are happy enough planning an armed robbery and I think this is an intentional choice by McQueen. The political struggle of two different types of criminal – the gang leader Manning and the white collar corruption of Mulligan – supports the idea that everyone is involved in crime, to some degree, importantly the widows’ solution to their problem is more crime.

There is a running theme that it’s very hard to find people to trust. Family, what is normally the strongest of bonds between people, is shown to be unreliable and being close to someone brings trouble. Alice’s mother, played by Jacki Weaver, is shown to be far from the nurturing and supportive figure a mother usually is. Much of the same is also true of romantic relationships and there is a feeling that the best way to get through life is to rely on no one but yourself.

The film is an engaging drama with good performances from all the cast and I thoroughly enjoyed it, however, I am not sure how long it will linger in my mind and if it’s a film that I would want to come back to. Certainly, it is more entertaining and well made than similar films but considering the calibre of the people involved I was hoping for something better, something that would be a real classic.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Posted by
Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.