While Widows is a well-made thriller with a handful of good performances, one can’t help but question a plot that relies on completely random long-shot occurrences that bring the story together. The strong political theme of racial economic disparity could have been explored in-depth but succumbed to a standard heist storyline.
Widows is a highly touted thriller from director Steve McQueen, whose new film is a follow-up to his masterpiece 12 Years a Slave, which in my opinion was the film of the decade, so this comes in with some high expectations. As diverse and female-centric as any film this year, the film’s large cast is impressive, while the screenplay was written by McQueen and the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn. One would think with all these elements, Widow is a surefire can’t-miss, but the film suffers from being so high concept, it forgets to take the heist portion of the film along for the ride.
Widows start with a SWAT team in Chicago that takes out four armed men who just robbed millions of dollars from a crime syndicate. Most of the women they left behind (Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Carrie C**n) are left in economic shambles, except Veronica (Viola Davis). She is left with a fine townhouse in a high-rise downtown, enough money (compared to her other widows) to get by, and even her husband’s driver/bodyguard stays on to help her out. Unfortunately, the money the husbands stole burned up with them, and the man they robbed (a hair-raising David Tyree Henry), comes around giving Veronica a month to get the money back to him.
Widows are based on a 1983 ITV television show of the same name, and director Steve McQueen was a fan of the show when he was growing up. It’s well-made; the production value and shooting locations are top-notch. The film has a deep bench, so much so that Jon Bernthal can’t get his name on the poster. There are some good performances here, with Viola Davis being one of the few actors of her generation who can carry a film of this type of ambition and scope.
Daniel Kaluuya shows a cold-blooded side previously unseen in his other work that borders on terrifying at times. David Tyree Henry, to me though, is the real show-stopper, combining street justice with an ambition to see life beyond the short-term while wanting to use a place in politics to expand his empire. Another stand-out is television’s Jon Michael Hill, of Elementary fame, who has a positively scintillating cameo as a reverend in Chicago who lets Henry’s Manning character know his opinion can absolutely be bought, and his loyalty doesn’t know any other color than green.
Then we come across the plot of the film (that many are touting). After watching it, you can’t help but question a screenplay that develops a story based on completely ridiculous random long-shot occurrences that bring the film’s story together. I mean, the only reason they even find the location of the score (and I mean, the only reason) is so lazy it was almost comical. For every handful of inspired scenes (one between two characters helping get over their grief may seem out of place, but only because it has never been done in that type of way before), you get one that’s pure cornball (Debicki’s character using a Polish accent to convince someone to help her buy guns).
There is where the issue with Widows starts: the heist portion of the film that takes away from the most interesting portion, which is the way it displays strong political themes of racial, economic disparity (a continuous shot of a car driving from the central ward to the outskirts, showing the urban decay in reverse, is truly inspired). So much time and effort are put into a second portion of the film that is so good, authentic, and real. One wonders why more time and effort weren’t put into the cat and mouse portion at the film’s center.
Films are supposed to be as long as they are supposed to be, and by the end of the film, it feels like two films are being pushed together like puzzle pieces that do not fit, and the robbery portion needed more time to breathe. When one part of the film is so much better than the central plot, that’s a problem, even more so when the theme and plot are not weaved together cohesively.
This may be hard on a film; you can even argue this review is trying to make a different film, and it might be. That doesn’t shy away from the point that for all the excuses made for McQueen’s film, the fact is this movie, even at two hours and nine minutes, needed more time to finish the job. Widows are entertaining, at times very good, but too uneven to be named one of the year’s best films. It’s just a good one, and there’s nothing wrong with that, just a disappointing one that’s a victim of high expectations.