Earlier this year, Ocean’s 8 proved to audiences that female-led heist films can be successful. However, while Gary Ross’s crime caper was all glitz and glamour, Widows – the latest film by British filmmaker Steve McQueen – shows audiences what happens when heists go wrong.
Based on the 1983 British crime drama by Lynda La Plante, Widows focuses on a group of women who lost their spouses in a failed robbery. Led by Veronica (Viola Davis), the ladies reluctantly team up to complete the job.
First of all, Widows is not like typical heist films. The crew members are not career criminals, they are not guided by years of experience, and the end result is not for amusement or honour. Instead, they are driven by their basic need to survive (financially and literally). This, along with their shared grief and newfound camaraderie, empowers them to do the unexpected and dismisses the notion that they are just a group of grieving, emotional wrecks.
It’s no surprise that the film belongs to the female ensemble cast. Although Davis has established herself as a strong character through her roles in Fences, Suicide Squad and How to Get Away with Murder, her performance as Veronica is on another level. Refusing to remain a victim, her tenacity provides the crew with an anchor to rely on and a source of reassurance. Elizabeth Debicki is wonderful as the emotionally fragile Alice, and both Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Erivo deliver some much-needed ballsiness and sass. Out of their male counterparts, Brian Tyree Green and Daniel Kaluuya respectively make the strongest impact as crime boss Jamal Manning and his enforcer Jatemee. Their quietly menacing performances easily overshadow those by Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall, as their characters (Jack and Tom Mulligan) are given little to do but bicker about their differing stances on politics.
Behind the camera, McQueen combines thrilling action sequences with relentless, nerve-wracking camerawork, while co-screenwriter Gillian Flynn reinforces the strength of the protagonists, focusing on the job in hand rather than dwell into emotional turmoil. In addition, this creative collaboration effectively brings the story into the 21st century by incorporating modern themes such as interracial relationships, police brutality, political corruption and race relations.
In McQueen’s most commercial film to date, Widows is uncompromising, visceral and surprisingly thought-provoking. Combined with Flynn’s creative dialogue and strong performances, it is a masterclass in filmmaking.
Widows is out in UK cinemas on 6 November.
Director: Steve McQueen, Gillian Flynn (co-screenwriter)
Stars: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson
Runtime: 121 minutes
Country: US, UK