Beginning with pure calm that cracks into explosive action like the snap of a Colt.45 handgun, Widows is a film that will take you for a ride and shake you to your core.
After their career criminal husbands are gunned down in a bank robbery gone wrong, four grieving widows: Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo), must pull together and finish the job to take care of a debt their husbands owe to a sinister crime lord, while also evading the attention of a shady politician (Colin Farrell).
Academy Award winning filmmaker Steve McQueen (Shame, 12 Years A Slave) is a director that commands your attention and with his new feature Widows he grabs it instantaneously. This lauded filmmaker really knows how to tell a story and watching Widows is seeing a master at work. McQueen understands how to propel a story forward and his filmmaking is tight and focused. He places his attention around the mounting pressure that Veronica, Linda, Alice and Belle face as their deadline to pay a debt to a dangerous gangster encroaches upon them and make no mistake the clock is ticking. What truly struck me about his storytelling is how his attention moves to the immense psychological pressure that builds inside of these four women and the different people that they have to become in order to pull off this criminal challenge.
Theme always plays a large part in McQueen’s work and here he is looking into ideas of status, position, circumstance, identity and power. This approach to the movie is presented through our four main female characters, along with the city of Chicago as well. Like other great crime films such as Michael Mann’s Heat, the city becomes a character within the film and McQueen’s lens captures a shocking unbalance between rich and poor. One of the best examples of this is a fixed camera shot that tracks Colin Farrell’s ambitious political figure Jack Mulligan from a slum to his palatial mansion, a journey that takes less than 3 minutes and five blocks and the resulting shot leaves you gobsmacked. This position of extreme poverty and extreme wealth almost standing next to each other, but being completely out of reach of one another is an analysis of contemporary America with laser like focus and it really hits you as an audience member.
Joining McQueen in bringing this intense story to life is award winning writer and author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn. Flynn is known for producing narratives that get under your skin and her work on Widows definitely falls under this. As a writer she has a knack for probing the dark corners we fear to tread and she takes us into some very shady places, both literally in terms of location and action, along with internally within our characters minds. We learn what makes them tick and thanks to her crackling writing and McQueen’s solid direction this narrative really sticks with you.
Leading the charge in Widows audacious heist is Viola Davis as Veronica Rawlings. Best described as being normal in every single way, the only thing daring she seems to have done is marry professional criminal Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson), who despite trying to keep his wife away from his criminal life drags her into it with his failed heist. If there was a word I’d use to best describe Davis’s performance than it would definitely be believeablity. You completely buy into her choices and actions here as Veronica and you slowly see her transform into a darker person as she is forced to take on this job. Davis’ Veronica is not one to fold under pressure and you can’t take your eyes off of her as she metamorphosis’s into the person she has to be in order to survive.
Standing next to Davis is Michelle Rodriguez as Linda Perelli, a women who knows what her criminal husband Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) does and unfortunately pays the price for his own vices time and time again. Where Davis shuts herself off from any kind of emotion, Rodriguez is far more affected by hers and in my opinion is the most human of all the women involved in the heist. While the consequences are not lost on any of them as to what might happen if they fail, being a mother of two young children really brings it home for Linda and you feel her maternal instincts pushing her forward to get the job done with stakes this high.
Each of the women of Widows is different and Elizabeth Debicki as Alice Gunner is the one with the most to learn and the most to get out of the events of the film. Starting off as the abused wife of her criminal husband Florek (Jon Bernthal), Alice finds herself a victim very quickly. But although she is pulled into this job like the others she as a character has the most to gain. While each of the women of Widows is changed by the film’s events, Alice’s transformation hits you the most and as she falls deeper into the heist you see a fire emerge that completely grips the screen.
Finally Cynthia Erivo is the wildcard of the group as Belle, a babysitter and beautician who stumbles into the heist and who brings another frame of reference to the film. What I liked about Erivo’s character was that she was the most game of all of the women for the heist and it’s here that we see McQueen’s storytelling at play. Narratively Belle’s motivations bring an interesting edge to the story and she also gives Davis a run for her money up on screen.
Widows is most certainly not for the faint of heart and be warned that the thrills come heavy and hard here. McQueen grounds his world in realism and this is Chicago we’re talking about here and the danger of the city is never far away. From a ferocious high speed chase to the sadistic leanings of Daniel Kaluuya’s gangster enforcer Jatemme Manning and the pent-up tension of a ticking clock, Widows definitely delivers on the thrills. Its action set pieces rage with aggression and you’ll be bracing your seat as the narrative moves forward.
Widows is white-knuckle filmmaking at its best and it will give your mind a serious workout thanks to its strong narrative and complex themes that are tied to it. If you’re wanting a rush that will leave you breathless by the end you’ll be guaranteed to find it here.
Image: 20th Century Fox