Widows may initially seem like an average heist film, but with Steve McQueen’s impeccable direction and the combined talents of a dynamite ensemble cast, it overcomes its genre trappings and occasionally overstuffed narrative to deliver an appropriately thrilling and surprisingly thought-provoking experience.
Top to bottom, this film is a technical wonder. McQueen’s shot composition is unparalleled, and he frames scenes for maximum impact of potency. Not only does he know how to capture suspense and illusions of power with his camera, but he similarly uses incredible symbolism to highlight the fractured worlds of modern-day Chicago (particularly during one standout one-shot sequence in which we follow a car from the “slums” to the privileged mansions of the wealthy). Joe Walker’s editing is taut and tense, increasing the anxiety of the film’s intrigue and it’s signature heist sequences. Hans Zimmer crafts a similarly suspenseful score that puts you on the edge of your seat.
By far and away, the film’s true success lies in its plentiful powerful performances. Headed by a reliably fantastic Viola Davis - who channels Veronica’s outer coldness with her inner emotional strife and grief with ease - the cast is simply aces all around. Among the titular “widows”, Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez deliver in their roles as well. Debicki has the greatest arc of any character in the film, progressing from a meek and unassuming pushover to a bold and brash badass with the motivation and urgency to take control of her life once more. Rodriguez is allowed to show realms of untapped depth beneath her “tough girl” persona, and she quite surprises with her dramatic beats. Cynthia Erivo is another standout as the down-on-her-luck beautician Belle who teams up with the widows to work as a getaway driver. Finally, although I do wish he had more screentime/more to do in general, Daniel Kaluuya is fascinatingly terrifying as the borderline psychopathic Jatemme Manning, transitioning from his previous sympathetic roles with no trouble whatsoever.
Widows certainly has a lot on its mind, and while I applaud it for attempting to tackle so many themes (racism, sexism, interracial marriages, police brutality, political corruption, etc), these many tangents can threaten to overwhelm the narrative at times. When the film is focused on the widows and their individual struggles, it soars. When it delves into the deeper political mechanics of Chicago, it slows down considerably. Now, this isn’t to say there isn’t merit in this discussion - I certainly understand what McQueen and Flynn were attempting to illustrate with this storyline, and I think it’s admirable. It just doesn’t quite mesh with the individual personal trauma that the widows are facing, and it’s not nearly as compelling. This isn’t enough to drag the film down as a whole, and I’m glad it dared to dig deeper than your common thriller fare, but it’s definitely worth noting. And ultimately, these few plot hiccups can’t derail the film from impressing with one of the most relentlessly engaging and exhilarating third acts in recent memory, which sends the flick out on a high.
Widows may suffer slightly from an overwhelming amount of thematically ground to cover, but it overcomes this narrative bloat thanks to the sheer talent on display, both in front of and behind the camera. I'm going to give "Widows" an 8 out of 10.