For a heist film built around gratuitous violence, it’s an interesting choice that the camera always pulls away when things get bloody in Widows, focusing instead on the everyday, mundane things present in the room. The brutality of the characters almost becomes background noise to the audience: we are almost as oblivious as the main characters had been to their husband’s crimes. Almost.
Widows launches right into the action, boomeranging back and forth between the main couples indulging in each other’s company and a booming, explosive heist that ends in the fiery deaths of the criminals involved — a sharp contrast, building intrigue right out of the gate.
The criminals in question all leave behind wives in their wake, who are now plagued with the responsibility of repaying the debts of their husbands. With roaring performances from Viola Davis and Michelle Rodriguez at the forefront of this film, I don’t need to tell you that the women are quick to piece together a plan and conduct a heist of their own based on blueprints left behind by Veronica’s (Davis) husband to spare their own lives. In short, this is a film about wives cleaning up the messes their husbands made.
Aside from the four female leads, familiar faces like Liam Neeson, Daniel Kaluuya and Colin Farrell appear in smaller roles — and that’s only naming a few. Director and screenwriter Steve McQueen leaves his touch on Widows through subtle commentary on corruption, while co-screenwriter Gillian Flynn’s fingerprints are all over the heart-stopping twists and turns that made her famous with Gone Girl. Clearly, from conception, this film was set up to be a success and it lives up to the built-in standard beautifully.
While a thrill to watch thanks to unexpected moments and acting prowess all around, Widows is probably a film you’ve seen before. But the dialogue makes sure to remind you that this time around, it’s women that are in charge (“no one thinks we have the balls to pull this off”). It feels a little empty, though. Almost every piece of the plan sees no obstacles and the ones that do are resolved through pure coincidence. Widows is pure escapism – satisfying to watch, but the plot is unrealistic and out of place in the gritty world McQueen and Flynn have set up.
The performances are what lift this film above and beyond the standard. Daniel Kaluuya’s turn as a ruthless mob enforcer is truly terrifying, managing to push his capabilities to new heights. Davis’ rawness and honesty personified as she finds herself forced into a tragic tug-of-war between thoughts of missing the man she knew as her husband and wishing she didn’t know the ins and outs of his secret lifestyle.
Surprise standout is Elizabeth Debicki as Alice, a widow who was abused by her late husband and shifts into sex work after his death, hoping to regain control of her life. From the beginning, Alice appears to be the incompetent weak link sure to blow the whole plan by accident, but as she comes into her own, proving herself as a valuable member of the team while insisting on her own value, she winds up the most compelling character of the bunch. Every step of her development is portrayed by Debicki with ease.
The other three main women, on the other hand, suffer from a lack of development, save for Veronica grappling with the truth about her husband. Still, she remains relentless in her cold and calculated nature all throughout, coming off as one note like the other two women. The development of these characters feels crucial, yet is swept up and hidden behind the barrage of gunfire and explosions.
Widows is a two-hour journey to completely lose yourself in. It’s not as dark nor as painstaking as prior works by McQueen and Flynn – it’s pure entertainment with a reach that extends beyond that title.
Widows has four more showings at The Film House from February 12 – 17.