Film review by Jason Day of Widows, the crime thriller directed by Steve McQueen about the wives of deceased bank-robbers who team up to finish the job. Starring Viola Davis.
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Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) are three women who have never met but whose lives are soon to collide. Their husbands and boyfriends are part of a bank robbing gang who steal money to support corrupt Chicago officials the Mulligans (Robert Duvall and son Colin Farrell). When their men die during a shoot-out with police, Veronica is visited by Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry), up against the younger Mulligan at an impending election and from whom $2m was recently stolen, by her husband’s gang.
With only one month set by Jamal for her to repay her late husband’s death, Veronica assembles the fellow widows along with gutsy hairdresser Belle (Cynthia Erivo) as their getaway driver to break into the Mulligan’s house and swipe the cash. Eyes all over the city watch their every move.
Based on the old Lynda La Plante novel, this stunning and arresting crime thriller proves to be more than just ‘girls with guns’ but has a real emotional punch and is intelligently scripted.
Turned into a hit TV series in the 80’s starring Ann Mitchell (latterly of Eastenders fame and who has a cameo here as Carrie Coon’s mother) director McQueen turns his robust, unflinching visual style to a story in which criminal behaviour is part and parcel of every facet of society, from the ground up, and is a fully fledged business-model like any other. Liam Neeson’s coveted filofax that details all of his jobs is minutely detailed, the oracle of money-making in this tough, windy city.
The best way to grab attention in a movie is to open with something memorable. McQueen’s opening shots of domestic bliss, abuse, love and longing are intercut superbly with the loudest, most visceral of bank robberies. It’s shocking, bewildering and is one hell of a way to start.
Wisely, McQueen decides not to try and maintain this energy but lets it evolve and slow-boil as the characters take-over, punctuated by flashes of nastiness until the classic denouement that marks all great crime movies.
(Interestingly, after this, there is no Givenchy/Prada attired champagne lifestyle for the victors. The women return to their relatively humdrum lives, ploughing their loot into helping them pursue their independence).
Has Davis ever given a poor performance in a movie? It seems like she gets better and better with each stint in front of the camera. Head held high like an Empress, fitting considering the magisterial way Veronica behaves and dresses (kudos to whoever bought those baton earrings in the costuming team, btw), she still employs that formidable arsenal of raw, emotional tics seen in Fences (2016), with tears flowing and snotty nosed at her dead son’s funeral.
The whole quartet of actresses are without fail: Rodriguez scores as a neglected wife whose life crashes when her ne’er do well husband bites the bullet leaving her without a business or income, but still grieves deeply at his death.
The statuesque Debicki towers over everyone, but her Alice is a little girl struggling to grow up and reach independence. Erivo has pluck and confidence as the last recruit to the group.
A female-led production, but not one in which the male actors are left in the sidelines. Farrell and Duvall are reptilian ‘villains’ (although really, everyone is a villain in this film) but best of all is Daniel Kaluuya as Manning’s vicious, murderous ‘assistant/enforcer’. His eyes sparkle as he either witnesses or leads the most appallingly violent of acts. At Neeson’s funeral, he hangs in the background by a statue of a soldier and calmly places his bubble on the barrel of the gun.
Cast & credits
Director: Steve McQueen. 2hrs 10mins (130mins). Regency Enterprises/See-Saw Films/Film 4/New Regency Pictures. (15)
Producers: Iain Canning, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Emile Sherman.
Writers: Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen.
Camera: Sean Bobbitt.
Music: Hans Zimmer.
Sets: Adam Stockhausen.
Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Bryan Tyree Henry, Liam Neeson, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Jon Bernthal, Ann Mitchell, Jackie Weaver, Lukas Hass.