Released: 22nd November
Seen: 27th November
One of the standard genre’s that is almost always guaranteed to be a really good time is the heist film. For some reason, we all just enjoy a movie where a bunch of criminals stick it to someone higher in the social food chain while also making a ton of money. Widows is certainly going to fit that standard mould, a bunch of people plan to steal a large amount of money that will stick it to the people above them in the social food chain and that would be good enough. It would be enough if Widows was just a standard heist film but it also happened to star a group of amazing women, that would be good enough… but this is a Steve McQueen film, good enough doesn’t cut it here.
Widows, based on the 1983 tv series of the same name, follows Veronica Rawlings (Viola David), Linda Perelli (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki) who are all married to men that commit robberies in order to make ends meet. When a job goes bad and all the men involved die at the hands of a callous SWAT team who laugh over their charred remains, the debt that the men owe to Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) gets passed onto the women who have to come up with $2 million dollars by the end of the month, otherwise they might have an unfortunate run-in with Jamal’s brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) who isn’t known for being diplomatic when he comes to collect upon a debt.
Just as a simple plot, this film works wonderfully. There are twists and turns in the right places that will keep the audience guessing just how everything is going to go and there are several shocking moments in the end that will get the hearts racing. What pushes this up a notch is the little details that are ever so carefully folded into the framework. While this could just be a light and easy heist film (Most heist films are basically pure fluff with some explosions thrown in for fun), Widows also sprinkles in a lot of heavy issues and does so with such a deft hand that you won’t realise just how heavy they are until afterwards.
Let me give you an example of something that doesn’t seem heavy at first… The film opens on Viola Davis and Liam Neeson making out in bed, this is literally the opening shot of the film and establishes the key relationship that will drive the story for the entire runtime. The film begins with an African-American woman and a Caucasian male, both over 50, as a couple and it is unapologetic about it. I know it might not seem like a big deal at first, but think through your own history with film and tell me how many interracial couples you can name… and now do the ones that are over 50, tell me if you hit double digits. That’s the sign that this film has some important things to say and it just going to say it, while it’s also entertaining you. There are so many big issues this film want’s to address, from the toll an abusive relationship can take on a woman’s confidence to what the families of the victims of police brutality go through to just plain old political nepotism and how it is just about a desperate power grab, all of them are touched on just enough to make the point but not enough to be distracting.
The characters are so well crafted that every single performer get’s a chance to shine in glorious ways. Viola Davis practically carries the film with a performance that will stun you. Her break down just before the funerals is a powerful raw moment of anguish that will resonate with you long afterwards, and her strength and resolve to get the job done is just incredible. Michelle Rodriquez seems to get a little less here than she really deserves but what she has, she sells and makes it work. Elizabeth Debicki gets a really interesting role as an abused woman who turns to escorting to make ends meet and while that kind of role could be cliche, she fills that character with so much strength and sly intelligence that she easily has the best growth throughout the entire film. Then there’s Cynthia Erivo who I really enjoyed when she appeared in Bad Times At The El Royale and I like her here, but she also doesn’t get much to work with. She turns up at the halfway point and it feels odd just how they get her involved. The rest of the cast is also spectacular and I would gush about them all but it’d take too long so special shoutout to Daniel Kaluuya showing off his dark side as a pretty intimidating villain. Daniel’s been in three of my favourite films of the last two years and I think he’s turning into one of my favourite actors.
I do mean it when I say that this is one of my favourite films of the year, it’s a very well written film that manages to juggle so many story ideas and make it look effortless. Where it falters, at least for me, is that there are some major plot elements that feel like they’re not explored properly. Cynthia Ervo’s character, as an example, just kind of turns up and is suddenly part of the gang. She’s not a widow, she had no relation to the big heist that started this film, she basically answered a want ad and that’s how she’s bought into the film. There is also a weirdness about an obvious mobster running for public office… oh wait, this is in America. OK so maybe it’s a little less weird, but still! There are a few moments when the film seems to really slow down to an uncomfortable level and while that works sometimes, particularly any time it slows down so we can watch Viola Davis go through 15 different emotions in a single shot, there are times when it feels like it’s padding out the runtime with pointless offshoots that add nothing, including a character moment that doesn’t really have a climax and while I won’t go into too much detail for fear of spoilers, it involves the fourth widow who barely appears in this film.
For the most part, this film is a really good time out, showing off the talents of it’s cast and director and showing that a heist film can really strive to be something more than pure popcorn. Some of the best performances of the year can be found in this film, if you’re looking for a good fun way to enjoy a few hours then this is a film I highly recommend.
What did you think about Widows? What’s your favourite heist film? Let me know in the comments below.