Movie Review: Widows

Widows is the much anticipated follow-up to 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning drama about the antebellum South and the journey of Solomon Northup. Teaming up with Gone Girl author, Gillian Flynn, who has become more entrenched in the world of screenwriting, he delivers Widows, based on a 1983 British TV series of the same name. Following a botched heist, in which several men are killed, the lives of their wives and families are devastated. Setting the film in a voting district in Chicago, where all the events take place in the buildup to a critical election, this unlikely heist crew gather in order to effect a carefully laid out plan that was intended for their criminal husbands.

Steve McQueen has a proven track record of strong dramas, making this genre detour into the world of crime thrillers quite surprising. In recent times with Inception revolutionising the concept of heist thrillers, it seems that the genre has been given new blood, especially in a time where everyone feels they could use a bit more money and are fed up with bigwigs. Reverberating the drive towards more female-led films and the introduction of much stronger female characters, there is an aspect of empowerment to Widows much like Ocean’s Eight, channeling the efforts of several woman to do the kind of heist movie usually reserved for men.

Widows features a stellar ensemble consisting of: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya and Robert Duvall. Being a Steve McQueen film, one would imagine that many actors would be vying for an opportunity to work with the trailblazing auteur. His artful eye and steady hand certainly sets the platform for noteworthy roles, coaxing nuanced performances and shining a light on actors come award season.

It’s quite amusing to see Liam Neeson serving as a figurehead, echoing many of his former roles and almost serving as a death to this type. Viola Davis is always a strong contender come award season and while far from a career best performance, still serves up a thoughtful and stoic turn as the new leader. It’s good to see Rodriguez delving into something more grounded from a dramatic point of view while Elizabeth Debicki has a fresh yet melancholic presence. Duvall and Farrell turn up the heat with emphatic performances, echoing relational dynamic in The Judge.

“”What did you expect we were gonna do… yogalates?”

This is a beautifully filmed heist drama thriller that glides across the screen with rich symbolism conveyed through some wonderfully composed shots. There are touches of brilliance, not surprising from McQueen, that pepper this sweeping genre film. Imaginative, powerful and emotive… several of the scenes leave a strong and lasting impression. The tone is serious, the kind of serious that sucks the air out of the room, leaving a soulful yet rather bleak picture in its wake.

McQueen seems to have been influenced by Christopher Nolan in terms of the oppressive tone, where everything seems burdened, carrying the weight of the world. While this cold, clinical and striking channel does make for grand and powerful storytelling as it did in The Dark Knight, the slowed down pacing and darker side of humanity siphons the joy, warmth and character identification making it a strictly no-fun affair. There’s even a bit of Michael Mann in the epic details, echoed by Farrell who starred in Miami Vice.

Widows is a bit depressing, but remains poignant and engaging. While you may not have a special connection in terms of heart, the film keeps your mind ticking as political machinations and an unusual revenge plot play out. While a fine production, buttoned down by amazing ingredients and some electric scenes, it’s one of Steve McQueen’s most detached vehicles.

Perhaps he needed to return to a more formula-driven genre following his Oscar success in order to reboot. While beautiful to behold, timely in terms of theme and fluently transposed into an American setting, it doesn’t feel as though McQueen truly took hold of this adaptation as a passion project. It’s a noble effort, yet doesn’t seem as assured as his previous films in terms of artistic vision, seemingly influenced by his contemporaries and only showing glimmers of potential.

Being at an arm’s length, one doesn’t feel as invested in the characters, who almost operate as a B-team. Then, the film doesn’t acknowledge the heist’s comedic undercurrent, instead trying to power home with the same sombre reflection. You can admire Widows for its eloquent reimagining, layered feeling and street smart disposition, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable as it ought to be from an entertainment perspective. Widows isn’t disappointing, checks most of the boxes and does so with style, yet it does seem rather underwhelming and safe for the creative force that is Steve McQueen. Subtle, nuanced and artistically credible with a natural flair, what it lacks in charm it makes up for in finesse and quality.

The bottom line: Substantial