Given that director Steve McQueen has based himself firmly within the art-house genre – 12 Years A Slave and Shame ranking as previous efforts – one would be forgiven for assuming that his latest would follow suit. And whilst Widows is still indeed a high-brow picture, McQueen proves more than ample in helming an actioner, showcasing his understanding for the genre with finesse and precision.
A collaboration of commercial appeal and sly social commentary, Widows hooks its unsuspecting audience from the get-go as the most tender of moments between Viola Davis and Liam Neeson is intercut with the latter and his crew having executed another of their heists, though the (brilliantly staged) set-up indicated it’s to be their last.
A renowned bank robber, Neeson’s Harry Rawlings exits the picture much sooner than perhaps audiences will be expecting, and it’s his death that sets in motion another planned robbery, this time under the direction of his grieving widow Veronica (Davis, as commanding as one would expect). Due to his connections to top-tier politicians, Harry’s death has more than its share of consequences for Veronica, and the film, penned by both McQueen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, spends just as much time with the titular wives in mourning (namely Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki) as it does with the duelling politicians (Brian Tyree Henry and Colin Farrell) who are both banking on Veronica’s success.
Delving any further into Widows‘ story arc would be doing a disservice as the film finds twisted delight in shocking its viewers with volatile intensity and unexpected detours. What I can say is that you’re unlikely to find a more perfectly assembled ensemble this year with the lead quartet of actresses – Davis, Rodriguez, Debicki and Cynthia Erivo as a tough-as-nails late recruit – all delivering stellar work. Davis is unsurprisingly a force to be reckoned with, her performance dancing between the conflict of leading the group and her evident will to survive.
Rodriguez, who has rarely as of late been afforded such a grounded part, brings her usual sternness to her role without resorting to bad-girl stereotypes, and Erivo (recently seen owning the screen in Bad Times at the El Royale) makes the most of her limited screen-time, but it’s Debicki, all 6 foot 2 inches of her, that earns arguably the meatiest role and makes the most lasting of impressions. As a formerly abused moll doing all she can to escape her overprotected lifestyle, Debicki shines with both comic precision and heartbreaking desperation, and should the film earn itself award favours it would be her performance that’s singled out.
Additionally, the aforementioned Henry and Farrell provide solid work as equal intense politicians, but it’s their sparring partners Daniel Kaluuya and Robert Duvall that overshadow them; Kaluuya is particularly great as Henry’s psychotic brother who resorts to the most violent of means to achieve his goal. One particular scene where Kaluuya’s Jatemme interrogates a paraplegic highlights his heinous lack of humanity.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise as to how great a film Widows is given its pedigree, but McQueen really has delivered both another flawless feature for his catalogue and the best film of the year to date. This is thrilling, handsomely-paced filmmaking that proves there are no boundaries when tackling a genre film.
From Academy Award®-winning director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) and co-writer and bestselling author Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”), comes a blistering, modern-day thriller set against the backdrop of crime, passion and corruption: “Widows” is the story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica (Oscar® winner Viola Davis), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
Widows (MA15+) is screening in Australian theatres from 22nd November 2018.