Country: USA, UK
Language: English, Spanish, Polish
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Director: Steve McQueen
Screenplay: Steven McQueen, Gillian Flynn
based on the TV Mini-Series “WIDOWS” by Lynda La Plante
Music: Hans Zimmer
Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt
Brian Tyree Henry
Kevin J. O’Connor
Jon Michael Hill
If Gary Ross’ OCEAN’S EIGHT (2018) is a female heist schlock marred by its dichotomy between its glamorous exterior and insipid interior, UK auteur Steve McQueen’s fourth feature WIDOWS hits the gritty reality hard in a corrupt, betrayal infested Chicago, an interesting career move after his Oscar champ 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013).
Still, as a genre practice based on an 80s British Mini-Series, McQueen and co-screenwriter Gillian Flynn (of GONE GIRL and SHARP OBJECTS fame) opt for a safe route in the story development, routinely fills up the well-worn plot interstices that builds up to a bold heist carried out by three newly widowed women Veronica (Davis), Linda (Rodriguez), Alice (Debicki), plus one female accomplice Belle (an agile and wiry Cynthia Erivo), to recoup the money their perished husbands stolen from a local criminal boss Jamal Manning (a facilely sophisticated Brian Tyree Henry), in spite of embedding a big reveal in the midway that makes audience an involuntarily complicit and apprehensive onlooker as the inevitable table-turning moment beckons, a move more or less undermines the much-anticipated cash-snatching derring-do, which doesn’t appear to need a full notebook of scheming left by Harry Rawlings (Neeson), Veronica’s hubby.
Veronica is the ringleader who propositions this dare-devil plan once she acquires Harry’s notebook which details all the particulars for the job, to emphasize our ethos of women’s empowerment, she takes it on her own to piggyback on her dead husband’s wits to enact a heist with all the minutiae written up, basically what it requires for her quartet team is deciphering a blueprint (although it is through a well-to-do male escort companion of Alice), buying a getaway car and tooling up with guns (a mind-boggling showcase of the arms market in America, to a pacifist’s eyes), casing the premise and then going for broke. Is there enough female wits manifesting apart from the abundance of guts and resolution? An upgrade from its source material feels wanting here to bestow more credits to women’s intelligent competence.
That said, what McQueen stout-heartedly achieves is to emblazon his acute social critique, which usually goes under-tapped in the genre’s propensity for thrills and spills, into the plot line, whereupon we are privileged to witness the shell game between Jamal and his old guard rival Jack Mulligan (Farrell) vying for an alderman post, with a sideswipe to the swaddling stance taken by the church dignitary. Also Veronica and Harry’s own mixed-race union has its inconsolable woe to be revealed in a startling flashback, which conversely speaks volumes of the genesis of the ultimate deception that would totally gut a suspicious Veronica and then spur her to fire back.
Encompassing a grand ensemble, WIDOWS gives a spectacular Viola Davis the rein to hold court, a self-made heroine doesn’t take orders from anyone else, vehemently internalizes all of Veronica’s grief, doubt, fear and distress to put on a strong face no matter what, one could only wish her reaction to that final shock would have been more intense and devastating, attagirl! Other outstanding performers including a feisty Michelle Rodriguez, a scene-stealing Jacki Weaver, the always bankable Carrie Coon, whose nuanced impression really tips the scale in terms of hindsight, and Elizabeth Debicki, arguably crystallizes the most complex character arc save for Davis’, there is something remarkable for a resigned domestic abuse receiver, naively dabbles in escort business, then finds her own foot in a dangerous run-and-gun coup, Debicki’s rangy elegance and simple-mindedness adds much dry humor in this somber tale.
In the men’s group, Robert Duvall apparently overreaches himself to prove that he can still address a tirade in his octogenarian days as Tom Mulligan, Jack’s domineering father and Colin Farrell elicits a cynical front that painfully reminds us a role may be bespoke for Michael Fassbender; Daniel Kaluuya’s unexpectedly violent turn as Jamal’s callous brother spooks us every now and then, and a very fine Liam Neeson contributes a bit more than just appearing in the flashbacks or Veronica’s imagination, he can be a hazard in reality too.
By and large WIDOWS is not your usual heist diet, an exhilarating journey notwithstanding, McQueen’s capsule footprint of a more serious slant in diagnosing social miasma makes a strange bedfellow of the blistering pace of an overtly simplified scheme, which makes a millions-dollar robbery look as easy as picking off a cantankerous, pistol-wielding octogenarian.