Widows Movie Review
Personally, I think 12 years a Slave is not only a great film, but one of the best best picture Oscar winners of all time. Therefore, I would see anything Steve McQueen directs. Widows, which McQueen co-wrote with Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame, is no 12 Years a Slave. It is difficult to classify. Its part heist film, part crime drama, part female empowerment flick. It’s not a perfect film, but it certainly is interesting and entertaining.
Four disparate women, who have never actually met, all become widows at the same time, when their husbands, who were heist criminals, are killed in the same SWAT ambush. They were escaping from another great get, led by their fearless and genius leader, Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson). Rawling’s wife, Veronica (Oscar winner Viola Davis) is threatened by a local politician/crime boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) because the loot engulfed in flames when the van exploded, during the SWAT team shoot out, was stolen from him. Manning’s minions are a vicious lot, especially his younger brother Jetamme (Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya). Given a one month deadline to return the money, the desperate, grieving, but strong and resourceful Veronica enlists two of the widows, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) to pull of a new, lucrative heist based on Harry’s detailed note book instructions left behind. It’s not easy convincing the women at first to go ahead with it, but they all have been left practically penniless because of their husbands’ untimely deaths. The fourth widow Amanda (Tony nominee, Carrie Coon) declines to participate, for very good, and twisty plot-point reasons.
Widows has a first class, platinum cast, with great actors turning up all over the place. McQueen makes so many interesting and right choices here. There’s the reliable, handsome, affable Garrett Dillahunt (Raising Arizona, The Mindy Project) as Bash, the chauffeur. Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall (Oscar Winner) are a feuding political, corrupt Chicago son and father. Jackie Weaver channels Sally Struthers (read, not subtle) as Alice’s mother. Jon Michael Hill is a charismatic pastor and hardworking character actor, Kevin J. O’Connor is hapless bowling alley owner Bobby Welsh. Remember Lucas Haas, the cute little Amish boy from Witness. He’s back. Of special note is the incredible Cynthia Erivo (Tony Winner) as Bell. Erivo, suddenly and deservedly, has one of the most interesting film careers unfolding. She is a gifted chameleon. I just saw her in Bad Times at the El Royale, and she gives a completely different performance here; but equally as believable. I was fortunate to see Erivo in her Tony Winning Performance in the revival of the musical The Color Purple on Broadway. She was astonishing, electrifying, and unforgettable. It isn’t easy for a Broadway Musical star to make a lucrative and productive career in film, but Cynthia is doing it right before our eyes. See everything she is in, please.
It’s best not to think too much about the genre hopping this film does, or its credibility with, and the consequences of the heist central to the plot. Actually the heist itself isn’t partially innovative and has a surprisingly short amount of screen time, for a heist film. Then again, it’s not a heist film. However there are plenty of twists and some good action sequences and a slightly, if glossy noir feel to the proceedings. Despite these peccadillos, the film has so many merits. First, and perhaps most importantly; it is a female driven action film. The women drive the plot and action and have character arcs. Despite their pasts as sheltered, pampered criminal wives, no men bail them out here. They are strong, decisive, resourceful and fearless. Furthermore the film never presents their lives as easy or uncomplicated and it avoids chick flick trappings, with an absence of huggy, BFF, bonding. When the film finally has a moment implying that two of the women may become friends, after the job is done, it is brilliantly understated. Interestingly, all the women seem to have a pallor of loneliness and disappointment about them, as if men have let them down all their lives, and their husbands’ abandonment, while committing a crime, is just another example.
There is a tremendous amount of Oscar buzz surrounding this movie, and it is well directed and very well acted, but I’m not sure if it has the emotional resonance to pull off a best picture nomination. However, I recommend it without reservations, especially if you are a Viola Davis fan, as she turns in another great performance.