‘Widows’ Review: A Rivetting Thriller From Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn

Widows opens with a heist gone wrong. A team of men are horrifically killed by police during a getaway. Their wives all grieve, unaware they are about to inherit a terrible debt. As mobsters and corrupt politicians close in around the women, they decide the only way out is to complete their husband’s last heist.
What works best about Widows is the team of four women. The characters are interesting and work well together. There’s an entertaining dynamic between very different women. It’s a fabulous underdog story of moms, stay at home wives and a babysitter decide to take what they need. Watching them work out the logistics of the heist, angles such as how to carry the money to the van is inventive and interesting. Traditional heist movie tropes are given fresh energy by the inexperience of the women. Watching Elizabeth Debicki’s Alice figure out how to purchase firearms and a getaway car is relatable and funny.
The grief that the women feel over their lost partners is palpable. McQueen builds a sense of loss through empty frames and contrasting colour temperatures. He abruptly contrasts intimate moments with harsh reality. He treats love and violence with the same obsessive intimacy. The dead men haunt their former wives in various ways.
Unfortunately, the film spends a fair amount of time away from this compelling element. Most of the first act is spent developing the political subplot which seems to have little bearing on the main story. There’s no through-line or theme to unite these elements. The subplot of competing morally dubious politicians is interesting, but I wanted the two stories to connect in some way other than the climax.
The heist itself is absolutely thrilling but rushed. Hans Zimmer’s score is compelling whilst Sean Bobbitt’s camera pushes the women through the action. Just as much invention enlivens scenes of exposition. A midpoint twist is revealed and then has little bearing on events until the very end. It feels like a Gillian Flynn flourish but there’s not enough time for the moment to have weight, and the narrative would have been stronger without it. Flynn has otherwise crafted a meticulous thriller that effectively traps its characters in their roles.
Steve McQueen has always been an actors director and Widows features some incredible performances. Viola Davis is the heart of the film. Her forceful yet fragile performance as Veronica Rawlins drives the action. Elizabeth Dibicki is humorous and tragic as the spoiled yet beaten housewife who finds her power during the heist. Michelle Rodriguez has her usual intensity but with a hitherto unseen vulnerability. Cynthia Erivo is the last member of the team and is a powerful presence from her first appearance. Her personality and physicality are immovable. Her dynamic with Viola Davis is electric.
Daniel Kaluuya drops the charm but keeps the charisma as the villainous Jatemme Manning. He’s a dangerous and unpredictable presence. Though his comedic villain qualities become a little absurd over time (specifically his menacingly listening to a learn Spanish tape) he is very convincing. There are a dozen interesting compelling supporting roles, such as Robert Duvalle as the racist patriarch of a political family and Liam Neeson as the charming but conniving former husband.
Widows is perhaps a little frustrating for distilling it’s most powerful elements with cliche but it is
undeniably a well-made, exciting and deeply moving thriller. The most compelling part of Widows is it’s female leads, it’s just a shame the film sometimes loses track of that.
Four Stars

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