Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Jacki Weaver, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo with Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson
Runtime: 2 hrs 10 mins
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scenes And Some Coarse Language)
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Opening Day: 6 December 2018
Synopsis: From Academy Award(r)-winning director Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave") and co-writer and bestselling author Gillian Flynn ("Gone Girl"), comes a blistering, modern-day thriller set against the backdrop of crime, passion and corruption: "Widows" is the story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities. Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica (Oscar(r) winner Viola Davis), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
The idea of Steve McQueen, the artist-turned-director known for serious, humourless films that double up as social commentaries (with the most recent being the Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave), do a film adaption of a 1980s crime caper British television series that appealed to the mass is probably something unexpected in the movie industry.
Somehow though, McQueen makes the movie adaptation of Widows, originally a 1980s British television series, work in his uniquely McQueen style. Rather than a fun, sexy heist movie ala the Ocean’s series, Widows is an intelligent movie that has the right amount of poignancy balanced finely with tightly paced explosive action sequences that one would not have expected from McQueen.
The movie opens effectively as it launches the audience straight into a riveting heist that goes wrong rapidly. Shot from the point of view of a speeding van, the camera brings the audience into the thick of the action as bullets fly and the men involved in the heist shout at each other in panicked tones. The scene is accompanied by the background sounds of screeching tyres and police car sirens shrieking at high-pitched tones as the police chases down the robbers. It ends off with the men trapped in their getaway van which explodes spectacularly before you even have time to digest how the men ended up being trapped and think about how a thoroughly planned heist executed by experienced men could go wrong at every possible juncture.
Having set up the premise with that muscular, sharply edited action sequence, McQueen swiftly moves to how the widows of the robbers are coping (after all, the movie is titled Widows). The wife of the mastermind/leader of the gang, Harry, Veronica Rawlings (portrayed by a very capable Viola Davis) is a teachers’ union executive. She has no time to grief as she is threatened by mobster Jamal Manning (portrayed by Brian Tyree Henry) whose two million went up in smoke together with the getaway van Harry and his gang were in. In the hands of a less capable actress, Veronica’s transformation from a grieving fearful widow who knows nothing about crime to a female gangleader who has to put on a tough act would have been hard to believe. However, Davis’ performance reminds us why she is one of the few actresses to have achieved the Triple Crown of Acting, as she expertly balances Veronica’s superficial indomitable toughness with intense vulnerability and grief.
The actresses playing the women co-opted into the heist to gather the money needed to bring their lives back on track have much lesser screen time but they utilize those limited moments effectively and make you sympathise them. Fellow widows, Linda (portrayed by Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (portrayed by Elizabeth Debicki) and late addition, Belle (portrayed by Cynthia Erivo) make for a delightful ensemble cast. Rodriguez demonstrates that she is more than just an action star in one of her very few roles outside of an action movie. Debicki is a joy to watch as you witness Alice grow from being much being a pretty face to being able to come up with creative solutions to her problems (watch out for the scene where she lies as a desperate mail order bride who convinces a random stranger to help her).
McQueen, being McQueen, doesn’t just escape for a generic heist movie. He laces Widows with subtle social commentary about American society. Set in Chicago, which serves as a grim metaphor for America in microcosm, the film has a sub-plot about politics. While threatening Veronica to pay the two million he lost, Manning decides to run for a political seat in the ward that the heir to a political scion, Jack Mulligan (portrayed by Colin Farrell) is eyeing. Manning’s motive is purely selfish - he wants to win so that he can earn dirty money ‘legitimately’ without having to worry about the police shooting him. McQueen doesn’t only rely on this political contest to show the audience what he has to say about American society. The death of Veronica and Harry’s son, the interracial marriage between the two of them, Alice’s lie about being a mail order bride, Alice’s arrangement with a reasonably kind sugar daddy, Belle having to juggle two jobs and many other instances all come together to form a social commentary about America the way McQueen sees it.
The politics add to the plot in a subtle way, enriching this heist movie, which would have been sufficiently entertaining on its own without that added layer of politics. And this subtle way of weaving all the intricacies together to create a tightly paced action-packed yet emotionally riveting movie piece proves why McQueen is so celebrated as a director.
(This is the movie that Ocean’s Eight could have and should have been)
Review by Katrina Tee