Steve McQueen’s Widows opens with an extraordinary sequence, whereby intimate moments of a heist gang with their wives and families are intercut with their disastrous final score, which ends in a hail of bullets and an explosion. The action is tough, gritty and violent, making tremendous use of cleverly mixed sound as the heist-gone-wrong and family sequences chop and change.
After this bravura opening, the widows of the title find themselves in a bind, obliged to make financial reparations to criminals due to the disastrous actions of their husbands. With no alternative, the widows go about planning a $5 million score, using the meticulous notes left by the husband of their leader Veronica (Viola Davis).
The first thing to say about Widows is that it has a remarkable ensemble cast on top form. Davis is terrific in her steely resolve, embodying a character who is clearly grieving, yet demands that her fellow widows woman-up, because “we have a lot of work to do, and crying isn’t on the list”. The other women, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo, are equally excellent. There are also terrific performances in the supporting characters, from Liam Neeson as Davis’s husband, to Brian Tyree Henry and Colin Farrell as political opponents in an election that forms the backdrop to the heist drama. Robert Duvall chews scenery as Farrell’s racist father, and Daniel Kaluuya in particular deserves a special mention as a genuinely terrifying gangster.
Adapted from a Lynda La Plante novel that was previously turned into an ITV series, McQueen (and co-screenwriter Gillian Flynn) moves the action to 2008 Chicago, giving the drama a backdrop that concerns American culture, race, poverty and social inequality. The film is relevant and timely, but crucially it is not preachy. The most telling moment comes when a long take follows Farrell’s car on the campaign trail, as they drive from deprived projects to affluent gated communities just a couple of streets away. This single shot makes McQueen’s point with tremendous eloquence.
In addition to the above, the heist movie elements are tense and gripping. However, don’t come expecting slick, glamourous escapism. Ocean’s Eleven it ain’t. Also I must add warnings for very strong language, violence and sexual content.
All things considered, Widows is a very fine brew of heist and serious drama with some first-rate performances. It is well worth checking out.