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‘Widows’ (review)

Produced by Steve McQueen, Iain Canning,
Emile Sherman, Arnon Milchan
Screenplay by Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen
Based on Widows by Lynda La Plante
Directed by Steve McQueen
Starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez,
Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell,
Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver,
Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson

 

To have your life upended by sudden loss is distressing, but to abruptly find that you must replace something you never knew you had?

That is the terrifying and immediate concern of Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) in the heist thriller Widows.

Director Steve McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn weave a tale that is impressive in its opportunities for vulnerability and nuance, but formulaic in plot twists.

In the first few minutes of the movie, the original theft has already gone tragically wrong for Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his crew.

Brief flashes of each man saying goodbye to his wife on the morning of the job are pretty much all we have to work from to see what kind of husbands/fathers the guys are. The rest of the film is told and felt through the experiences of the widows, who have varying degrees of understanding of their loved ones’ pastimes. Veronica’s frequent flashbacks allow for more time to learn about Harry (and enjoy Liam Neeson being, well, Liam Neeson), but the actions of Linda and Alice are just as telling about their previous relationships as any daydream sequence could be.

Debicki’s performance in particular shows an emotional journey from an adrift subject of objectification to a confident team member that can carry her own and then some. Davis is splendid as the grief stricken but determined Veronica. As she flows effortlessly between shattered and savior, cradling her small fluffy white dog-turned-comfort-animal while dictating plans for the heist that will return all the money to the women’s debtors, Davis is a force that drives her scenes without eclipsing her co-stars. Rodriguez is softer than any other character she has played in years, but there is still a bit too much edge in Linda and it takes away from several potentially transforming scenes. It feels like a part of Michelle Rodriguez is reluctant to let go of her forever-tough image, even for one movie. It is a shame too, because there are glimpses of something very endearing and interesting in the few scenes she opens up.

Running parallel to the main story is an election race between Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the next heir in a line of ethically questionable politicians, and Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), a neighborhood crime boss that is looking to legitimize his cash flow the Mulligan way — through kickbacks and contracts. He is assisted by his brother and enforcer Jetamme, who is played by a cool and menacing Daniel Kaluuya. Both candidates are criminals in their own right but the balance between the calm Manning brothers and the hot-headed Mulligans is an interesting sidebar to what powerful men will do to maintain their status while we watch what desperate women do to escape theirs.

With two interesting and intertwining storylines to manage along with a host of heavy thematic elements, McQueen occasionally lets the pacing slip away from him. There are parts that drag in the setup while other areas, such as Carrie Coon’s role as the 4th widow Amanda, seem completely glossed over or edited out. One of the larger reveals also comes about incredibly clumsily, and the ones that follow have varying degrees of surprise and coherence.

Yet even with these shortcomings, the depth of the performances and strong cinematography makes Widows an enjoyable addition to McQueen’s portfolio. He may have traded some storytelling for accessibility, but we still made out like bandits.

 

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