Widows is a slow-burn, expertly crafted crime drama with thrilling plot twists. Based on an early eighties British television series, the film has been adapted by Director Steve McQueen (Shame, Twelve Years a Slave) and his co-writer, famed novelist Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl). There’s greatness on multiple levels. The murders, mystery, and eventual heist share equal footing with the character development. Widows is an intensely personal story of bereaved women thrust into an impossible situation. It keeps the characters squarely in focus, but then pulls back to show the environment that fostered them.
Viola Davis stars as Veronica Rawlins, the glamorous and fashionable wife of Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson). While she lived a privileged life in their Chicago penthouse, Harry lead a gang of criminals with ties to corrupt local politicians. Harry and his crew meet their fates in a high stakes robbery gone wrong. Veronica, who kept herself ignorant of her husband’s activities, is devastated by his loss. Her grief turns to terror when she is payed a visit by Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), a crime boss running for office. Harry owes him two million dollars. He gives her one month to pay him back, or his wrath will be suffered by the gang’s families.
Widows is densely plotted with complex relationship dynamics. Veronica had never met any of the significant others. Linda’s (Michelle Rodriguez) dress store was repossessed when her husband was killed. She has two young children. Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), statuesque and beautiful, suffered physical abuse; but loved her husband. Amanda (Carrie Coon) was wary of her husband’s life, and is now left with an infant. These completely different women, with nothing in common except for their dead husbands, must band together and figure out a way to repay the money. The situation becomes even more entangled with the involvement of Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the political opponent of Jamal Manning.
The script by Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn explores each character at length. Veronica is the leader of the women, but is out of her element as a criminal. She cannot let her sorrow overtake her resolve. The threat is dire. Viola Davis takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. Her performance here is utterly captivating. Elizabeth Debicki, who literally towers over this film, is going to be a contender for every supporting actress award. Her character is continually exploited for her beauty. One of the fascinating subplots involves Alice’s domineering mother (Jackie Weaver), who convinces her to join a “sugar daddy” website to survive. This arc blends brilliantly into the overall story, but is so distressing. Widows shows the plight of subjugated women with frank realism. The friendship that develops between Veronica and Alice adds a core strength to the group.
Steve McQueen’s camera placement deserves study in film school. He is operating on a genius level here. McQueen uses extreme close-ups as a hammer. Viola Davis and Liam Neeson sucking face like horny teenagers. Her eyes gushing tears, lips quivering, as she breaks down. Alice is fiercely slapped by her mother. The camera zooms in on Elizabeth Debicki’s anguished face as she struggles not to cry. This intensity is then taken in an entirely different direction. McQueen has a scene where characters are driving around a Chicago neighborhood. We hear their dialogue, but don’t see them. The audience sees the car exterior. The focus is on the ghetto transitioning to wealthy homes in mere blocks. It’s a powerful understanding of the socioeconomic forces at play. Widows firmly establishes Steve McQueen among the elite auteurs in cinema.
Widows is not a gratuitous action film. The violence is a component of the story, not a crutch. The drama far outweighs the gunplay. That said, there are several incredibly graphic scenes. Daniel Kaluuya co-stars as Jamal Manning’s brother and enforcer. He is a merciless sociopath, a steel boot to soft ass. Kaluuya gives Josh Brolin and Michael B. Jordan real competition for best villain of the year.
From 20th Century Fox, Widows is a must see. This is the serious adult film at a box office filled with musicals, cartoons, and comedies. Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn fire on all cylinders. The story, acting, and filmmaking are par excellence in the genre. The British television series had two sequels. I am sincerely hoping to see these Widows again.