Academy award winning director Steve McQueen and Gone Girl writer, Gillian Flynn team up for a star studded heist film that’s a little formulaic, but takes an interesting look at U.S. politics and the social landscape of modern Chicago.
After the deaths of their husbands in a heist gone wrong, four women (Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo) are forced to pull off a heist of their own to pay back politician, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). The task is made that much harder by their lack of criminal knowledge, Manning’s younger brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) and a major election race between Jamal and tough opponent, Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell).
Widows has one of the most talented casts assembled this year, with Davis and Debicki the strongest of the group. Davis is completely in her element as her character shows tremendous growth, from her early defeated demeanour to being a dominating force on-screen. She’s very likeable and the sarcastic quips from Flynn’s writing suits her to a tee. Similarly, Debicki’s character, Alice, starts as a woman reliant on men to survive before becoming truly independent by the film’s conclusion. Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya also put in two interesting performances as the Manning brothers with honest motivations, wanting to see their ward of Chicago run by someone who has actually lived in the slums, instead of Mulligan who only pretends to understand what living there is like.
One telling scene sees Mulligan driving home after a rally in the local neighbourhood. As he talks to his assistant, the camera stays outside the car and showcases the differences from the poor and rundown parts of this Chicago ward to the wealthy area where Mulligan lives. It’s just one of the many ways that McQueen showcases the bigger picture of what is happening in Chicago and broader America. Flynn’s snappy dialogue also shines bright as it works particularly well with Davis’ strong personality, but also brings some light-hearted fun, not to mention plot twists that will only make viewers more invested in what’s happening on-screen, as Flynn is well known for.
Where Widows sadly becomes just another heist film is in its formulaic and cliched third act. Before the film reaches the heist itself, there are already plenty of familiar story tropes that audiences will know from every other heist film. Characters go through training montages and source key things that will ultimately help them in their heist. However, the film does differentiate itself from the rest of the genre by focusing on the political landscape rather than just the heist and takes a slower narrative approach, making the heist more satisfying once we get to it. It even sets a dark overtone with ideas of people “reaping what they sow.”
However, Widows doesn’t stick with much of the material it sets up, ending in a similar way that any other heist film would, rushing through the heist itself and leaving the interesting political threads hanging. It is incredibly unsatisfying to have the feud between Mulligan and Manning unresolved on-screen and for a large part of the film their issues didn’t seem to matter and felt irrelevant relevant. The overarching theme of consequence for drastic action is almost absent from the film’s ending, opting for a happier note that feels almost unfitting or frankly undeserved.
Though the grand plan that is Widows doesn’t quite come neatly together, it still has many excellent performances and a talented enough crew behind it to make it a film that could end up stealing some awards.