Back in 2013, Steve McQueen delivered the juggernaut that was 12 Years a Slave which went on to snatch up 3 Academy Awards. 5 years later, he returns with yet another stellar ensemble cast, this time pulling off something that is far from your ordinary heist thriller.
Widows’ rapid start sets up the premise for the film; a police shootout leaves four thieves dead during an explosive armed robbery attempt in Chicago. Their widows - Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) - have nothing in common except a debt left behind by their spouses' criminal activities. Hoping to forge a future on their own terms, Veronica joins forces with the other three women to pull off a heist that her husband (Liam Neeson) was planning.
What starts off as a relentless heist film soon transitions into a visceral drama which examines the lives of each of the widows in the aftermath of their husbands' deaths. In doing so, McQueen expands his direction to serve as a lens for exploring socio-political issues on poverty, crime, corruption, and violence. What the film subtly and effectively does is commentate on what it means to be a minority in present-day America, despite the fact that the story takes place in the year 2008. The politics of the film may seemingly disrupt viewer’s engagement with the plot, especially Colin Farrell’s character, Jack Malligan, a politician who becomes mixed up in the widows’ plans. Yet, McQueen makes excellent and effective use of every single member of this ensemble cast, including Daniel Kaluuya. Known for his role in last year’s smash-hit Get Out and a supporting role in this year’s Black Panther, Kaluuya stars as a ruthless mob enforcer and assistant to another politician in the film. He drives any scene he is in as an intense and merciless murderer with terrifying swagger. His performance is one of the highlights of McQueen’s film.
After a carefully calculated build-up, McQueen steers the film into full swing when the four women begin to prepare and carry out a daring heist of their own. Viola Davis’ performance is the stand-out, cementing her character as one who despite her sheer vulnerability, can manifest a sense of toughness and resilience to persevere on. She’s the leader of the pack, with no time to waste, and certainly no time for superficial emotions. Some viewers will be unable to help themselves from drawing parallels between Davis’ character here and her portrayal of Annalise Keating in the TV drama series How to Get Away with Murder, which is helmed by Shonda Rhimes. Both characters are cut from the same cloth, and Davis masters the confidence and power of both. The film’s final twists, plot revelations and action sequences all make for an utterly enticing watch, with McQueen entering into a rather uncharted territory, proving that he can also handle such high-octane moments.
Widows makes for an often grim and unsettling watch, exploring grief, pain and immorality. Thanks to McQueen’s direction and his ensemble cast, it’s a smart and intelligent success.