Steve McQueen tackling the heist-thriller genre is certainly worth seeing, but while it is a well-made effort, it is sometimes too convoluted for its own good.
Dir. Steve McQueen
2018 | USA/UK | Crime/Drama/Thriller| 129 mins | 2.39:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for violence, language throughout, and some sexual content/nudity
Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson
Plot: Set in contemporary Chicago amid a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
Awards: Nom. for People’s Choice Award (Toronto)
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed in theaters)
Having tracked Steve McQueen’s feature film directing career from the get-go with Hunger (2008), Shame (2011) and 12 Years a Slave (2013), I must say that while his latest, Widows, is a solid studio release (at least a tier higher in craft and intelligence than the usual fare), it is his weakest film to date.
Here, McQueen tackles for the first time a true genre movie, centering on the exploits of a group of women who don’t know each other, but share the same situation: their husbands are dead, as we see from the jarring counterpoints in the opening sequence between a heist gone awry and domestic ‘bliss’ among the respective couples. It is a fragmentary if efficient start to what would be a fairly convoluted film.
Penned by Gone Girl (2014) scribe Gillian Flynn, Widows may be too mazy for its own good—it is one thing to present a complex, layered story that immerses the viewer, but another thing altogether to punctuate the story with one too many a revelation. An overcomplicating plot aside, Widows is well worth a watch inasmuch as the thought of McQueen doing a heist-thriller primarily with women is fascinating.
“What I’ve learned from men like my father and your husband is that you reap what you sow.”
Viola Davis is her usual mesmerising self as the leader of this female band. After being threatened by the pissed-off head of a local political group running for an upcoming election (film is set in a district in Chicago), she seeks to rectify the problem of a massive debt owed by her late husband. Daniel Kaluuya of Get Out (2017) also gives a disturbing performance as an ultra-sadistic henchman of that aforesaid political group.
Widows does offer a rich look at how politics could shape its environment and compel people to do things that they otherwise would not. One of the joys of watching Widows is its depiction of themes of race, police brutality, gun accessibility, amongst other perennial hot-button issues in America.
The action and suspense are also well-calibrated in the best tradition of Michael Mann (Thief, 1981; Heat, 1995), and very much shows that McQueen can handle a bigger budgeted film with gunplay, pyrotechnics and car chases. In a way, one could say that Widows is not so much a direct step-up but a step-diagonal forward for one of the most promising British directors working today.