Director: 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, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Jon Bernthal
Runtime: 129 minutes
I’ll admit I have yet to see one of Steve McQueen’s four feature films and that is Hunger. Shame is one of the most effective movies I have ever seen, and 12 Years a Slave was my favorite film of 2013. So expectations were up for Widows which seemed to go against type for him. A heist movie? Don’t we get those yearly? We do, and we get a lot of mediocre ones and rarely a great one. So where does Widows fall in this genre?
Veronica has just become a widow after her husband, Harry, and his thieving friends are killed in the aftermath of stealing $2M from Chicago crime boss and current runner in the city alderman election, Jamal Manning. Veronica is one of four widows left behind after the robbery-gone-wrong. Manning still wants his money that burned up in the van along with Harry and his gang, and he turns to Veronica to get him his money back. Enter Manning’s opponent in the election, Jack Mulligan, who is the son of the incumbent, Tom Mulligan. Jack ties into all parties involved. He knew Harry, and he has open conversations with Jamal, even though they are running against each other. To pay Jamal back and start a new life for themselves, Veronica and two of the widows plan to pull off Harry’s next heist of $5M.
I haven’t even named off all of the characters, and this is where the problem lies. Widows would have played out as a great miniseries, but here all the storylines that are introduced need to be done quickly. A miniseries would have given Jamal and his brother, Jatemme, even more room for their excellent performances. We could have seen the election play out slowly with more suspense and conflict. McQueen wrote the screenplay with Gillian Flynn who recently had one of her books, Sharp Objects, turned into a compelling miniseries.
Widows throws quite a few twists along the way, but none of them are genuinely shocking. Some things have no payoff and some of the actors who could have had an Oscar-worthy performance don’t get the chance because the material isn’t there. The best performances come from Liam Neeson, Brian Tyree Henry, and Daniel Kaluuya; with Neeson only having some very small moments. In the opening scene we are treated to a car chase, and from a directing standpoint, this is the best part of the film. McQueen takes a unique style, and the use of sound here is incredible. We have never seen McQueen do anything like this, but this proves he can apply his talent to other types of action and create something amazing.
Widows is stacked with talent, but the writing just can’t give everyone their moment to shine. The Manning brothers are the exception because they were great characters that were cast perfectly. The movie isn’t a failure, but it doesn’t deserve Oscar buzz like it is getting. McQueen is capable of more and so is Davis, but it is hard to get more when a script doesn’t give it. It was still a fun movie and more about the lead up than the heist itself. You will not be wasting your time with this film, but you will wish you had gotten more.
Widows would have been better served as a miniseries, but McQueen's directing and his cast elevate it above most heist movies.