After directing the Best Picture winning 12 Years a Slave, accomplished indie film-maker Steve McQueen goes mainstream with Widows, a remake of the celebrated British 1980’s TV mini-series of the same name. Here he relocates the action to the United States, penning the script with author Gillian Flynn (she of Gone Girl fame). The result is a splendid heist thriller with superb performances, superior action sequences all held together by McQueen’s keen eye for detail.
In a contemporary Chicago, four criminals are killed after a heist goes catastrophically wrong. However, these men stole $2 Million from the wrong people, meaning their widows are then forced to clean up the mess and embark on a heist of their own.
The film cannot work without the terrific performances of the ensemble cast. Viola Davis is awesome, delivering a brooding performance as leading lady Veronica. She was the perfect actress to lead this team, with a swagger and grace rarely found elsewhere in Hollywood. As good as Davis is, the other women also deliver, with Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy 2’s lady in gold Ayesha) and Michelle Rodriguez (Fast & Furious franchise) in particular delivering quite possibly their best ever work in front of the camera. Cynthia Erivo is also great in a smaller than expected role, building upon her sterling work in Bad Times at the El Royale.
Thankfully, the men also bring the heat to their respective roles. Despite minimal screentime, this is the best I’ve seen from Liam Neeson in quite some time, same too from Colin Farrell who delivers a slimy performance as Politician Jack Mulligan. Brian Tyree Henry (the breakout star of the excellent TV show Atlanta) continues to show why he is a talent to behold with a menacing turn whilst Daniel Kaluuya is deliciously over-the-top, portraying the psychotic Jatemme Manning, brother to Henry’s Jamal.
With so many characters at play here, the film however struggles to keep things flowing coherently. Whilst everyone involved is great, it becomes overly convoluted. Characters come and go too, with Henry in particular being at the forefront during the first half of the movie whilst basically non-existent in the second.
Despite the heist nature of the film, McQueen and Flynn have a lot to say about the current state of America. Throughout the story there is this layer of social commentary which hits surprisingly hard. The script talks about politics, white privilege, gun laws, police force and many other current day problems which are occurring in a present day American society driven by paranoia and division.
Steve McQueen is the clear MVP here. Watching him bring his arthouse background to a wider audience is a delight to watch unfold, utilising the $40 million budget he was given to full effect (the biggest he’d previously worked with was just $20 million). He has a great hold on the action too, delivering a real gritty and in your face approach to the mayhem that unfolds.
People looking for just an action-heavy thriller could be left disappointed. The action is there and it always delivers, but Widows certainly puts the ladies ahead of the job, making this a real personal affair which some may find disappointing. This is a story of grief, revenge and battling for what you believe in. Emotional yet exhilarating, Widows is the finest heist movie to emerge in years.
Verdict: This hard-as-nails thriller is a gritty, intense and enthralling experience elevated by a superb cast and a director working at the peak of his powers.
Best Moment: In one glorious unbroken shot, an angry Kaluuya asks some men to rap for him