As one of the most rigorous and unflinching auteurs to emerge in the last decade, it would have been hard to guess that Steve McQueen’s fourth feature, Widows – his first since his Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave – would be based on an ITV series from the ‘80s. This shift, from pitch-dark introspective drama into something more bombastic and commercial, is pulled off with flying colours.
After the fiery deaths of their husbands during a failed robbery, four widows are forced to band together to pull off a major job to pay off their debts to a gang of mobsters looking to get into politics. This makeshift crew is headed up by Veronica (Viola Davis), whose husband Harry (Liam Neeson) has left her the plans to a heist worth five million dollars.
Obviously, Davis is fantastic, but she never overshadows any of her fellow actors in this all-star ensemble. Elizabeth Debicki mixes steeliness and fragility to great effect as the youngest widow; Michelle Rodriguez is an effectively gritty presence; and Cynthia Erivo continues the stellar debut year she’s having with this and Bad Times at the El Royale. Daniel Kaluuya is especially gripping as an ice-cold enforcer, only given a few scenes but leaving a trail of terror and humiliation in his wake.
The action is executed with all the confidence and swagger one might expect from such an accomplished director, and McQueen and Gillian Flynn’s script makes skilful use of its source material, delving into soapy thrills and twists without ever feeling silly.
With its Chicago setting, Widows tackles themes of political corruption and racist police brutality. More than just setting a scene, these injustices inform and drive a compelling story of how power is imbalanced – whether by class, gender, or race – that always remembers to excite and entertain.
CAST: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry, Robert Duvall
DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen
WRITERS: Steve McQueen, Gillian Flynn (screenplay), Lynda La Plante (original TV series)
SYNOPSIS: Set in contemporary Chicago, amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.