Widows is a heist movie, and so much more.
Opening in the US this Friday, Nov. 16, this tense new film from 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen comes with a slam-bang hook: when a bunch of armed robbers get dead, their widowed wives pull off the next job. But this pulpy tale is also packed with powerhouse performances, twisting storylines and layers of thematic nuance, making it much more than your average heist thriller.
Unfortunately, Widows doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts.
The first thing to salivate over is the list of names involved. McQueen worked on the script withauthor Gillian Flynn, based on a TV series and novel by British crime queen Lynda LaPlante. Then there’s the stellar cast list: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Duvall… It’s a mark of quality that even the minor characters are played by the well-regarded likes of Carrie Coon from Fargo and Jon Bernthal of and .
Then there’s the grabby concept. Butthis ain’t: the heist is just one strand of a multi-layered exploration of greed, injustice, race and power that snakes from the street up through the corridors of power.
Heist movies have clearly-defined structures: recruiting the gang, planning the job, the job goes wrong — you know the drill. Widows flirts with that structure, but adds smart twists. For example, the characters are dispatched on intel-gathering sub-missions that in many crime movies serve as time-filling diversions, but in Widows these side quests send the characters spiralling in unexpected directions. It’s like the film sets out to be a heist thriller but life gets in the way.
McQueen’s take on this pulpy tale is as tough and assured as its lead characters. Viola Davis is the forceful widow left holding the bag on a debt she didn’t even know about after the fiery death of her husband, played by Liam Neeson. It’s a dour but commanding turn from Davis, made all the more compelling by the fact that when she approaches her fellow widows about joining the robbery, she ain’t asking.
Debicki, Rodriguez and Tony Award-winning theatre actor Cynthia Erivo are great as the budding robbers finally owning their own lives. Widows simmers with righteous feminist anger as these nuanced and multi-faceted women fight back against predatory criminals, corrupt politicians and self-interested men at every turn.