Widows review Viola DavisYear: 2018
Director(s): Steve McQueen
Writer(s): Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen, (based on the show by Lynda La Plante)
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
35mm, Color, 128 mins

Synopsis: After their husbands are killed, four widows are forced to pay their debts.

Widows is a crime drama that’s perfectly fitted to the moment. While the overly-masculine action films of the past have all but died out or become rote, director Steve McQueen and writer Gillian Flynn have flipped the genre into what we need right now. From its subversive premise, to a tight focus on character-driven stakes, this film is what big blockbusters could and should be. It’s got all the crowd-pleasing moments that make us want to stand up and cheer, but also never dumbs down its socially aware story. Add to this one of the strongest ensembles of the year, and we’ve got something that truly delivers. With its propulsive thrills and inherent feminist overtones, this thing hits like a freight truck.

After a botched job, four armed robbers are killed during a standoff with the police. In their absence, a mayoral candidate with mob ties loses a huge sum of money. He then puts it upon one of the deceased’s wives to make things right. Already wracked with grief, Veronica Rawlins (Viola Davis), is forced to follow through with one of her late husband’s unfinished jobs. Inheriting a notebook with plans and contacts, Veronica enlists the widows of her late husband’s crew for a dangerous heist. As the widows struggle with their lives being upended, they form a tenuous bond, pushing through to make a clean break that could secure a future for each other and their families.

Without a doubt, the film hits so hard because of the synergy between Flynn and McQueen’s singular voices. With Flynn, the film’s women are painted with honest realism. They have the resolve to craft their own fate, even while dealing with their own imperfections, be it the lives and choices they’ve made, or situations that are out of their control. McQueen brings an uncompromising ferocity to the film. He smartly contrasts the humanity of these women with an absolutely brutal view of street violence and political scandal. All of these traits make the old feel new again. It’s not exactly a reinvention of the wheel, but it doesn’t have to be. We still get the centerpiece heist that keeps us at the edge of our seats, but it’s propped up by real stakes and smaller character moments which give the grit and grime meaning. Like the women who anchor it, the film thrives on its own terms. It’s a twisty thriller that celebrates the complexity of its characters in the face of hardship and in relationship to the way they’re viewed amidst society.

Widows Viola Davis Michelle Rodriguez Cynthia Erivo Elizabeth DebickiAs mentioned, the ensemble here is killer. Headlining the entire thing, Viola Davis comes out swinging. As Veronica, she’s deeper than a stereotypical Strong Female, but a flesh-and-blood human being doing the best with what she has. Davis’ Veronica has two sides, one that she keeps to herself, and another that she uses to empower those around her. It’s a sight to see, and anchors the film with a strong center. Not to be outdone, Michelle Rodriguez’s Linda, Elizabeth Debicki’s Alice and Cynthia Erivo’s Belle bring strong contrasts, casting a wide net of characters who collide and conquer in amazing ways. As for the men, it’s better to stay a bit vague. The performances are just as good, but what they mean in context to the film should remain a surprise. Let’s just say that Daniel Kaluuya, Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson and others subvert in their own ways.

From its explosive opening sequence, to the numerous twists and turns, Widows doesn’t have any dead weight. It kicks off with true intent and purpose, hurtling towards its surprising conclusion with fiery aplomb. McQueen and Flynn’s fresh perspective makes for a slick, defining thrill ride, and it that only gets deeper the more it sinks in. This is absolutely a new classic for the genre, and I hope as many people see it as possible.

SG