‘Widows’ review: Heist thriller done right

Steven McQueen’s Widows captivates with an outstanding cast even when the story stumbles.

Director Steven McQueen ensembles a group of women to put on an intelligent heist thriller in this all-new take on a 1980’s mini-series from the 80’s. ‘Widows’ opens violently with a heist gone wrong. After a thrilling car chase the men involved are killed. They leave behind their wives, but also a debt. McQueen brilliantly introduces each of the widows at the respective funeral of their lost loved ones, to also telegraph the vast differences between them. There’s Harry Rawlins’ (Liam Neeson) wife Veronica (Viola Davis), who lives in an extremely expensive apartment; there’s Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), the battered but resilient wife of Jon Bernthal’s character; and there’s Linda Perelli (Michelle Rodriguez), who struggles to raise her two children and run a business in the constant absence of her husband.

All of the widows are left high and dry when their husbands die, and they each try to find their own ways of getting by. Veronica, however, gets a terrifying visit from Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), an individual running for Alderman in a mostly black ward, but who also doubles as a crime lord of sorts. You see, it was Jamal’s money that Harry and his crew stole, and it was his money that burned up in the explosion that killed the men. Jamal gives Veronica four weeks to string together $2 million, or else be killed. Veronica ensembles the widows who have nothing in common except a debt left behind by their spouses’ criminal activities. The women join forces to execute a heist hoping to forge a future of their own terms.

Widows is an intelligent, unpredictable thriller that puts up great performances from an outstanding cast. You never know what would happen next. It was a fresh take on the heist subgenre with quality action scenes and surprises that would make it all the more interesting. As for the cast, Davis plays a cultured upper-class woman who suffers nobly before transforming herself into a badass. Rodriguez gets to play someone a little less aggressive than her usual characters in other films. Debicki is a joy for she towers over everyone with her body being a rental, has all the power to men that crosses her. Lastly, a late addition to the gang is the British singer Cynthia Erivo, expecting to be the muscle of the gang; her presence is so formidable that she only wins a staring contest with Viola Davis.

The film has a tough job of holding together the entire plot. It’s not clear exactly what kind of film Widows wants to be: ‘Is it a feminist heist thriller?’ or ‘A political drama?’ It was so stuffed with stars, styles, and big ideas, it’s almost impossible not to admire what the film is going for. There are some holes in the story and it feels weirdly underwritten in spots. But it was a film that sticks about the messes that men make, and the women who are left behind are forced to pick up the pieces. There’s a reason this ensemble is stacked with tremendous actresses, and there’s a reason this is a story about women pulling off a heist. They face not just terrible odds, but also the lack of faith that they can even pull something like that. They’re the wives they take the money and spend it while the men do all the dirty work, right? But Widows gives a voice to these women and it reveals the complex inner lives they led while their husbands were busy doing other things up. That was all to take if you focus on that. It was good but not great.

Widows is a shift for McQueen and this one feels more conventional than his previous work. It was good and fresh for a heist thriller. It’s interesting and worth to watch the first time around.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Steven McQueen Starring Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Daniel Kaluuya, Lukas Haas and Brian Tyree Henry. Runtime: 128 minutes

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