- Viola Davis as Veronica Rawlings
- Michelle Rodriguez as Linda
- Elizabeth Debicki as Alice
- Cynthia Erivo as Belle
- Bryan Tyree Henry as Jamal Manning
- Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning
- Colin Farrell as Jack Mulligan
- Robert Duvall as Tom Mulligan
- Jacki Weaver as Agnieska
- Liam Neeson as Harry Rawlings
- Carrie Coon as Amanda
A reinterpretation of a Lynda La Plante novel that was also a television series in the 80’s, Widows, as directed by Steve McQueen is an enthralling and character driven slow burn of a heist thriller and drama with superb acting.
In Chicago, a heist that was organised by Harry Rawlings goes horribly wrong and results in his and the other members of the criminal group being killed. Following this, Harry’s widow Veronica is threatened by mob boss Jamal Manning , who Harry stole from and who wants money back to finance his campaign to run for alderman. He warns her to get $2 million to pay him back soon or suffer the consequence, which will most likely come in the form of his terrifying brother Jatemme . His rival for his desired position is Jack Mulligan, a slimy, spoilt politician who wants to step out of his father’s shadow who also will figure in a certain capacity of the story. After acquiring Harry’s notebook of plans for another heist, Veronica contacts the widows of the other dead men. Linda, who owns a dress shop is in a similar predicament as her husband sold her business without much thought for her and Alice is a battered young woman who is strapped for cash and harangued by a harridan of a mother. One widow isn’t interested in it, so Veronica enlists the help of the fierce Belle, who it just so happens to be Linda’s babysitter. She plans to relocate and could do with a chunk of money to help with this. The plans of the heist starts to form with the group, but various things throw up stumbling blocks and set in motion what could be deadly for the ladies if they don’t succeed.
Steve McQueen is already an established director who is on fire here, bringing his knack for looking at dramatic subject matter and blending it with some really tight tension. We get a plot that seems straightforward, but is actually very twisty and frequently takes you by surprise. We also get commentary on many themes such as racism, hypocrisy , sexism and crime, but thankfully they are given good rendering and not heavy-handed. McQueen clearly has something to say and his cinematic talents lend themselves well to his vision. One great example is Mulligan moving from an impoverished area to his plush house which is a minute away. The fact that the windows of his car are blacked out show how little he and sometimes others understand social divide. This is a heist thriller with a difference as the main characters are not professionals in the art of stealing and the heist itself is not the most important part of the film. Undoubtedly, it forms a ticking time bomb for the characters but it’s watching how these people react to the seemingly impossible task ahead that provides Widows with its biggest impact. We get to know these women and their lives and what ultimately brings them together. They don’t want to be friends or even know each other that well, but all are drawn into a certain sisterhood of unfortunate circumstance that leaves them with no choice but to resort to planning a heist. These are women who are realistic and not simply superheroes, a film like this is too good to go down that route to making it a matter of fluffy caper. There are real stakes here and ones dripping with double-crossing danger. Some may take issue with the gradual build up, but I thought it added more dimension to the film as we viewed growth within characters and their actions. McQueen should be commended for how he keeps all the stories and arcs spinning in tune and given time to breathe. It could have fell apart as there is sometimes a lot going on in Widows, but Steve McQueen and the screenplay from him and Gillian Flynn keep us firmly rooted and invested in the ways they link. The editing, which cuts back and forth in time at various intervals and can be choppy one minute and contemplative the next is something to admire. And set against a building and rumbling score from Hans Zimmer, Widows particularly soars.
A string in Widow’s ever impressive is the ensemble cast, which is simply to die for. Viola Davis heads proceedings with an intimidating and grim seriousness, that also allows for humanity and sadness emerging. Davis rocks the role of a woman who has lost everything and becomes an unlikely but indomitable presence in something she never thought she’d have to do. It’s when she doesn’t say anything that she truly comes alive; her face a canvas of subtle and nuanced emotion. It’s a very fine performance by an always impressive actress who it appears is incapable of disappointing. Michelle Rodriguez is a little softer here than the usual tough chick she plays and it works surprisingly well. I just wish she’d get more roles that blend her toughness with that something else like the one displayed here. Elizabeth Debicki is another standout as the often needy and almost childlike Alice, who it appears is incapable of having a relationship with anyone who won’t abuse or mistreat her. Debicki plays her like a broken down China doll, only later on she starts to harden herself and increasingly mature. Cynthia Erivo rounds out the main ladies with an abrasive attitude and no-nonsense visage that is palpable and strong from the moment we see her.
While it is the ladies of the ensemble who take the lion’s share of screen time, the men also show they are no slouches. Particularly of note is rising star Daniel Kaluuya who bristles with an unnerving swagger and alarming intensity. He puts you on edge throughout Widows and it’s a big credit to him that you feel that way. Bryan Tyree Henry also has an intimidating nature, but one that is tempered with shrewd smarts. Colin Farrell is really fleshed out as a conflicted politician who almost expects everything simply because of standing but also a desire to escape the way his father thinks. It’s a fine balancing act and one that is played well opposite the always watchable Robert Duvall. Liam Neeson, mostly seen in flashback, is like a spectre on proceedings as he is the one who instigated everything and has his fingers over all. Also here is Jacki Weaver, who plays in a short but memorable time the vile and suffocating mother of Alice, whose idea of trying to help is by attempting to coerce her into prostitution. Carrie Coon may be given the least amount of screen time but from what we see, her presence figures unexpectedly into things.
With a focus on characters and depth, Widows earns high points and is simply put, a very well made film with heart and tension. Steve McQueen crafts this engaging and twisty thriller drama that must be seen.