Director Steve McQueen could’ve chosen any project for his follow-up to 2013’s Oscar-winning Best Picture “12 Years a Slave”. An all-star, action, crime, revenge, heist, political drama wouldn’t have been my first guess.
McQueen is the director and co-writer (with “Gone Girl”’s Gillian Flynn) of “Widows”. The story, based on an 80s British TV series, is set in modern day Chicago. Viola Davis leads one of the biggest ensembles of the year as Veronica Rawlings. Husband Harry (played by Liam Neeson), a high-stakes, professional crook. When Harry’s latest job goes south, he and three partners are all killed (hence the title “Widows”). Veronica is distraught, but she and the other wives don’t have much time to grieve.
That’s because the victim of the robbery, a political wannabe who also operates on the dark side of the law, wants his money back – all $2 million. Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) gives Veronica a month to get money or she be killed (and her little dog, too). Veronica may have an ally in Manning’s equally corrupt opponent Jack Mulligan (played by Colin Ferrell). Or maybe not.
“Widows” doesn’t play around. It’s as subtle as a slap in the face – and there are plenty of those in this movie, along with stabbings, shootings, explosions and chases. This is an unconventional film to be released in the heart of Awards Season – not because of the cast or the writing and directing team, but because of the genre.
A few of the script elements are a bit far-fetched, but McQueen and Flynn are able pull-off a couple big time surprises. McQueen inserts some stylistic techniques to this otherwise standard material (such as a 360-degree camera swirl during a memorable gymnasium scene) to add his personal touch. He also allows the violence to take centerstage, with several raw, unsettling moments.
As with most good political crime thrillers you need to pay attention in order to keep track of who’s with who. None of the performance are exceptional, but everyone contributes solid work. Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki play the other two widows who team-up with Veronica on their life or death heist. Carrie Coon and Cynthia Erivo have pivotal roles as well.
Robert Duvall spews-out seven F-bombs in one sentence (one of the film’s highlights) as the retiring Tom Mulligan. “Get Out”‘s Daniel Kaluuya is Manning’s menacing right-hand-man. And Jacki Weaver, Jon Bernthal and Matt Walsh (“Veep”) also appear briefly.
“Widows” may have more star-power attached to it – if front of and behind the camera – than any other movie in 2018. That doesn’t make it an Awards Season contender – because it’s not. But it is one heck of an entertaining ride.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Widows” gets a B.
Running Time: 129 min.