Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen (Series: Lynda La Plante)
Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Carrie Coon, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Coburn Goss, Alejandro Verdin, Bailey Walters, Michael J. Harney, Eric Lynch, Molly Kunz, James Vincent Meredith, Brian King
R for violence, language throughout, and some sexual content/nudity
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
Heist films are generally mile-a-minute thrill rides that take the audience through fast-based ups-and-downs until they feel like they’ve been wrung out and then the twist arrives and everything changes. For Widows, the only element that doesn’t match pace with the genre is the pace itself.
Contented to unfold its story in a slow-burn style, Widows stars Viola Davis as the widow of a renowned bank robber (Liam Neeson) whose team was killed in a freak accident. As the victim of his last heist seeks to force Davis to return the money or risk her own safety, she puts together a team comprised of two of the three remaining widows along with some help from other quarters, and attempts to carry out one last heist to pay off all debts and set them all on the path of retirement.
Davis’ stoicism has been her stock in trade for years. That whip-smart personality of forceful vengeance makes her the ideal woman to head this stellar cast of actors. While her mournful moments are deeply felt, it’s when she finally digs her heels in that the potency of her ability come to the forefront.
As her fellow widows, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki are strong in their own ways. Rodriguez isn’t given enough to do, but Debicki commands the screen each time she’s given an opportunity and often outshines Davis, which is not an easy thing to do. Debicki plays both vulnerable naif and scorned competence with chilling efficiency. The first time I saw Debicki in The Great Gatsby, I knew instinctively that she’d be one of our greats and she’s proven herself here to have already lived up to those expectations and her future is incredibly bright.
Also noteworthy in limited roles are Carrie Coon as the fourth widow and Cynthia Erivo as a single mother working babysitting jobs to put food on the table. Combined with her performance in Bad Times at the El Royale, Erivo is showing that she has what it takes to transcend the stage where she’s earned much acclaim for her role in the stage musical The Color Purple.
Director Steve McQueen has spent his career redefining the genres in which he works from the harrowing life of a sex addict in Shame to the chilling frankness of 12 Years a Slave to this thrilling, deliberately-paced heist film. McQueen’s talent for twisting audience expectations in new, inventive, and sometimes a bit too inaccessible ways, makes him one of the finest talents working today. This is a film of efficient beauty and while audiences may not be able to appreciate much of it today, it will hopefully earn its place in the upper echelons of the genre as history looks back on it.
Widows, based on Lynda La Plante’s television series of the same name, is adapted by La Plante and McQueen as well as Gone Girl scribe Gillian Flynn. Giving the women of the film agency over their own fates is a potent message, one that is severely lacking in this genre where female characters are often treated as damsels in distress rather than strong, independent characters. They are given well rounded motives and clear priorities when other writers might have devalued their individuality in favor of fight choreography and other forms of faux-feminist strength (see anything made by Joss Whedon in the last two decades).
This is a film that audiences may not appreciate fully and that’s a shame, but Widows is one of the best films in the genre even if not properly appreciated.
February 26, 2019