A McQueen’s Royal Touch: A Review Of Widows
How often do you enter a cinema to watch a thriller heist film, and come out reflecting on politics, corruption and nepotism, and women empowerment, domestic violence and racial stereotyping? Well, that’s the kind of movie magic director and writer Steve McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn have conjured up with their masterful Widows. McQueen gave us 12 Years a Slave and Shame, while Flynn wrote Gone Girl and Sharp Objects; so while it’s quite a surprise to have them working together, we can be super thankful they did! As here’s an intelligent, thoughtful story on a big canvas, that still manages to be emotional and personal.
Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debecki), and Amanda (Carrie Coon) don’t really know each other, the common link running between these four women being their husbands were all involved in a fatal botched heist. That the heist involved the campaign money of a local Chicago politician that remains missing only means that Veronica is now being asked to answer for the lost money, some 2 million dollars. When Veronica discovers that her husband left her a book with the detailed plans of one last ‘job’; instead of selling the ‘book’, she attempts to enlist the other widows and do the job themselves. And along the way, Linda’s babysitter, Belle (Cynthia Erivo), gets involved.
And it’s against that very basic plot, that McQueen masterfully starts providing us rich characterization, strong subplots and narrative strands, and enough twists and turns to keep us on our toes, and constantly have the rug pulled out from under us. The men in the cast aren’t slouches either—with Colin Farrell as Jack Mulligan, the son of a local politician ready to take on the mantle of his father (Robert Duvall), and Daniel Kaluuya as the malevolent right hand man of the man they’re running against, both putting in impressive performances.
But ultimately, it’s the women who romp off with this film. Viola Davis is the steady, central presence; while Elizabeth Debicki turns in the portrayal with the strongest arc. Michelle Rodriguez is asked to play against type; and after watching Cynthia Erivo play a completely different kind of character in Bad Times at El Royale, I can’t help but be super impressed—a triple threat Tony-winner for Broadway’s The Color Purple, Erivo is poised to be one of bright new actresses of the immediate future.
With this film, McQueen, a noted arthouse director, has gifted us with his most commercial, accessible film without losing the grit of his film-making provenance. There’s one long shot that’s fixed on the hood of a moving car, while a cynical, heated conversation between Jack Mulligan and his campaign manager is ensuing within the car. Only McQueen could pull this off with such aplomb; more conventional directing would have fixed on the car interior, panning between the faces of the two arguing. McQueen makes his choice original and telling, as the short drive takes us from the squalid, inner city neighborhoods to the gentrified streets and leafy mansion of the Mulligan family. Such stylized, yet confident and masterful handling of the material is hard to find.
I would have to think back to 2006's The Departed of Martin Scorcese—for a film where such gripping, intense action, was supported by great acting, and a host of memorable characters. Suspenseful and violent Widows may be; and yet it’s also a thinking person’s film, with an abundance of social commentary. This is the film Ocean’s 8 should have been, but sadly wasn’t.
Lead photos via @widowsmovie