“We are living in an environment where people are blind. What you don’t see, you don’t know. Out of sight, out of mind…”
Secrets… They have a way of tearing people apart and destroying households from within. And for four women, this was a reality that they would soon be living. Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn’s screenplay, based on the 1983 British TV show Widows, follows Veronica Rawlins (Viola Davis) as she goes to recruit a group of women to carry out a heist. After a crew, made up of their husbands, is killed in a botched robbery attempt, it is up to the widows to pay back the money to crime lord Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). Heartbroken and without income, these women must rely on one another to get through the dangers of thievery. And soon, they uncover a sum of dark secrets that lead to a dangerous crime journey that they must overcome to survive and make a better tomorrow for their suffering families.
Hollywood has seen its fair share of heist films. Indeed, they typically follow similar patterns: why the robbery is necessary, who and how it’ll get done, and even the occasional slip-up and failures within the mission. Widows certainly sticks to this method but adds balanced layers of realism, emotion and entertainment. Sure enough audiences will find themselves cheering for these women that must carry out these crimes; it’s a sense of good people doing bad things for the right reasons, after all. But in Widows, there are no right reasons. It’s a matter of survival, of staying alive, of fighting against the odds when your back is against the wall and when everything else seems impossible, making the story that much more intriguing and relatable to women all over the world.
But even though Widows follows a standard structure, it further branches out into an emotional crime thriller that is heavily focused on its characters. The team, for example, is made up of four different women who’ve all experienced a multitude of problems ranging from sexism and scrutiny to mental and physical abuse. And these themes, among many others, are added benefits of the story that sets the film apart from others of similar structure.
One of the very best aspects of McQueen’s story is his dedication towards making the settings just as important as the characters and conversations going on within them. It’s one of the more peculiar features of his direction, but it stands out in the best way possible. For instance, in one of the best shot scenes of the year, politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) discusses his politics with his assistant. But instead of seeing the conversation from their vantage point, the camera shows the state of Chicago (outside of the limo). It pairs so beautifully with the conversation because it conveys the indisputable profundity of corruption in governmental affairs as audiences are shown the slumps and ghettos of Chicago in one minute followed by wealthier residences the next. It’s a subtle aspect to the storytelling that takes a simple conversation to complex heights, but it’s moments like these in which audiences will understand that McQueen’s eye for the unusual will continually pay off throughout the film.
WIDOWS works as well as it does despite some gaping holes in its storytelling for several reasons. For one, although the ending is a bit abrupt, and there’s no real time to breathe in the final 40 minutes of the film, the payoff from its content is worth it, alone. Additionally, every member of the leading (and supporting) cast gives a standout performance. Viola Davis’ commanding presence is unmatched as she demands your attention in every scene. Rodriguez and Erivo, both having time to shine, deliver incredible moments to showcase their characters’ disgust and commitment to not putting up with selfish men. Then there’s Elizabeth Debicki, who is extremely compelling in her role as a survivor in every essence of the word. These four actresses, together, will show audiences everywhere that multifaceted women can helm a film centered around violence, power and control, and do it with elegance and undeniable tenacity.
McQueen’s WIDOWS isn’t just a bold and fresh genre film capable of entertaining from beginning to end. The exceptional storytelling is delicate and deliberate in its intentions to captivate audiences to the point of bringing viewers inside the widows’ world. The tremendous performances are focused, structured and meaningful, and the screenplay is rich with issues that are prevalent in society today, which never feels cheap. Furthermore, Hans Zimmer’s score is haunting and fluid in moments where it needs to be, and piercing at other times to match the intensity of every scene.
Elegantly blending its Oscar-worthy script with entertaining moments that lead to an explosive finale, Widows is sure to satisfy audiences of all types. The film delivers a fresh take on a tired genre by incorporating and balancing serious topics with action-packed sequences and drama. And though the film’s over-packed finale will send audiences into a frenzy, the experience of watching McQueen and Flynn’s story unfold will become a fan favorite. And in the end, the unveiling of truths throughout the film will keep movie-goers on the edge of their seats and their jaws on the floor as they come to the realization that these Widows certainly “have the balls to pull this off.”