Film Review – Widows

Directed : Steve McQueen

Writer: Gillian Flynn & Steve McQueen (Screenplay), Lynda La Plante (based on her TV series)

Starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki

Tagline: Left with nothing. Capable of anything.

Trivia Linda’s shop sells cloths and ornaments for the fifteen tears celebration (quinceanera). By this celebration, girls from Hispanic families are introduced into society and recognized as women.  Very fitting to a movie which is all about women getting into their own power

The buzzword of today is Diversity, put that together with the old saying of  “We want something like… but different” and you’ll get Widows

Though Widows can be easily categorized as a Heist movie, it’s not your average heist movie with a twist of an all-female cast. Nothing can be far from Widows as Ocean 8, which also came out in the same year. 

This is no breezy Ocean’s sequel. Because the women in Widows have no experience in the robbing business (and no access to hackers or hi-tech gadgets), they have to get by on their wits and boldness, patching together the job from scratch, with only the bare outline of a big score described in a notebook. 

At its most enjoyable moment, Widows unfolds like a DIY crime. The three amateur crooks embark on a self-taught crash course in buying guns, obtaining transportation, and scouting the targeted location. 

Their secret weapon is an element of surprise: To put their plan into motion, the women exploit how the world underestimates them (“No one thinks we have the balls to pull this off,” the lead organizer tells her makeshift team by way of a pep talk), while exploiting on male ego, desire, and arrogance.

Widows is based on a TV series from the ’80 written by Lynda La Plante. McQueen has taken the story and moved it to contemporary Chicago.  Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) is a professional thief who has been killed along his partners Carlos (Manuel Gracia-Rulfo), Florek (Jon Bernthal) and Jimmy (Coburn Goss) while doing a heist.

The crime boss, Jamal Manning (Brain Tyree Henry) , from whom Harry and his partners robbed $2 million, is threatening Veronica (Viola Davis), Harry’s widow.  Jamal needs the money to finance his electoral campaign for alderman in the South Side precinct of Chicago, where he is running against Jack Mullingan (Colin Farell), whose family historically dominated the alderman position in that precinct.

Veronica discovers Harry’s notebook, which contains a detailed plan for a heist of $5 million. She decided to carry on the plan to repay Jamal her debt and recruits two other widows, Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) to assist her. The fourth widow, Amanda (Carrie Coon), does not show up to the initial meeting. When Veronica visits Amanda and learns she has a newborn child, she opts not to mention the heist plan to her.

Having McQueen and Gillian Flynn write the script makes sure that the movie would include strong female characters in a story full of twists and surprises. Having McQueen direct the movie guarantees us a movie that is mainstream, exciting and fun and at the same time wants to make you think as it quickens your pulse.

McQueen has created a brilliant movie, which is a societal inequity, exhaustion at corruption, and outright anger at a bullshit system that steals from the poor to give to the rich.  In part, Widows seems to be saying that corruption is a great equalizer, especially among women betrayed by powerful men. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when McQueen films an entire conversation from outside a moving vehicle, making a damning political point simply by shifting the focus from one quadrant of the windshield to the other. 

Though the script is truly great, what makes the movie unforgettable are the performances that the lead women are giving. Viola Davis leads this ensemble in every scene she presents herself. What Viola Davis can do in one longing, grieving look many actresses can’t do with a full blown monologue, that’s a fantastic representation of how visual works better for movies. Watch the beat where she’s looking out at Lake Michigan and we see her in reflection, an image of her dead husband coming up behind her. It’s almost as if her grief manifested him. 

Each of the other characters are also at top performance, Elizabeth Debicki as Alice—battered by her late husband, pushed into the arms of a new possessive man—emerges slowly but forcefully from her shell. Michelle Rodriguez as a woman whose business collapses when her late husband’s secrets come to light and Cynthia Erivo as a mother struggling to provide for her daughter, working however many jobs she can find. 

These women feel real, messy and intricately layered and while their situations might differ they all desire some form of financial independence. There’s little time for grief (“We have a lot of work to do, crying isn’t on the list”) but it grief comes in small doses and at the same time there’s a need for intimacy and warmth that’s tangible in scenes where toughness is instead prioritized.

The only downside of the movie is the last part of it where some scenes felt slightly rushed, some showdowns that need more depth and some characters that need more closure.

But overall Widows will remind you of how massively entertaining crime movies can be, especially when the spirit of cool-headed capability, on and off screen, animates them.


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