Widows is a fascinating hybrid of the arty from writer/director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and the pulpy from author and co-writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl). It’s both a sharp, action-filled heist film and a rumination upon revenge.
The film begins with Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his crew of professional thieves making a big score. When things go awry and the crew are killed by the police, Harry’s widow Veronica (Viola Davis) is approached by the crime boss who was robbed and put on the hook for returning the cash.
In need of a crew of her own, Veronica solicits the help of her fellow mourners (Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki) and a babysitter (Cynthia Erivo) to engage in an elaborate heist that Harry had pre-planned. Other powerhouse performers including Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon and a most welcome Robert Duvall are used to full effect.
McQueen dials back some of his more poetic affectations, but one bravura sequence involving the ever-changing landscape of Chicago that mixes rich and poor in one short journey says more visually than most entire scripts manage to convey. The twists and turns are expected in a heist tale such as this, but the film still manages a few surprises along the way. However, the fact remains that these narrative elements are almost entirely subsumed by the more critical aspects of character.
Davis in particular is exceptional, conveying equal parts ferocity and vulnerability in one of her finest performances. The others, especially Farrell, revel in some scene-chewing, but do so in a way that’s very engaging.
Cynthia Erivo brings an extremely impressive physical presence to the screen, providing the most “action movie” element that’s still emotionally resonant. Expect some casting person to wise up to her on-screen presence and put her in a leading role where she crushes whatever’s in front of her (and with an angelic, award winning Broadway voice, her talents run deep).
Superficially, Widows may come across as slight but enjoyable, but there’s a lot more at play with these well drawn characters. This is the film that Oceans 8 dreamed of being. It’s a clever, fierce, sharp heist thriller with loads of banter to back it up. It’s nice to see McQueen lean into more straightforward genre fare while keeping his sharp eye intact. Much like David Fincher, he makes the most out of Flynn’s flights of fancy.