By: Christian Harding (Two Beers) –
Fresh off his Oscar win for the much heralded 12 Years a Slave, director Steve McQueen finally returns to the big screen after half a decade’s absence with his hotly anticipated new thriller Widows. Adapted from a British television series of the same name which premiered in 1983, the premise follows a group of women, each from different lifestyles and classes of wealth, as they attempt to pull of a heist in order to pay back a crime boss after their criminal husbands are killed during a botched job. Now, these four very different women are forced to come together as a team and need to execute this incredibly risky heist scenario, all the while a local election is heating up in the background of the film’s Chicago backdrop between two equally dangerous and corrupt political officials, each one trying to one-up the other in how badly they can squander their opponent’s chances at victory. And if those two separate plot-lines sound like they don’t have anything to do with one another and would be better served as their own separate films… then you’re absolutely right…
Firstly, the good – and make no mistake, there’s no shortage of praise-worthy elements to be found in Widows. Off the top, the ensemble cast here is absolutely phenomenal. Of course industry veterans like Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, and Robert Duvall each pull off reliably engaging turns, but there’s an equal amount of newcomers and fresh faces each holding their own against these acting legends. Cynthia Erivo made a good impression in last month’s already underrated Bad Times at the El Royale and here pulls off another solid turn in a fairly underwritten role. Fresh off his first Oscar nomination, Daniel Kaluuya also fares well here as the closest thing to an antagonist to be found here, along with Brian Tyree Henry as his foil, and both make for memorable, intimidating threats to the titular widows. But the real MVP of this ensemble, at least according to this reviewer, is Aussie actress Elizabeth Debicki who pulls off a remarkably convincing turn and emerges as the most sympathetic character in a cast of characters rife with deeply tragic circumstances. Lastly, Michelle Rodriguez rounds out the main ensemble with an effective performance.
While it’s commendable for Widows to try and tackle so many prominent, current issues all at once, even its biggest fans would be hard pressed to deny that maybe it tries to bite off a bit more than it can chew. In addition to the central heist, there’s a number of intersecting side plots which dive into a plethora of topics, including local elections, political dynasties, electoral corruption, class warfare, police brutality, marital infidelity, spousal abuse, the rights of of sex workers, and probably a few more I’m forgetting at the moment. Given the involvement of author turned screenwriter Gillian Flynn, fresh off a successful HBO miniseries in Sharp Objects, my guess about what happened here – and I have absolutely no proof that this is the case, just a hunch – is that this story was originally pitched as a miniseries all its own, but was either rejected or turned down so often that it was eventually just polished off and trimmed down so it could meet the needs of a cinematic screenplay. And if that wasn’t the case, then it certainly feels like it. At the very least, this film could’ve used about five to ten more minutes just to more properly flesh out all of the moving pieces; each of which work on their own, but don’t often come together as a satisfying whole, at least until the climax.
Despite being a bit overstuffed and muddled at times, Widows is still very much worth your time. Whenever it can manage to keep its focus on the main storyline of the titular group of women trying to plan and execute the central heist, it’s one of the most consistently thrilling and surprising films yet released during the 2018 awards season calendar. Maybe it doesn’t reach its full potential all of the time, but when it works, it works incredibly well. Seek it out if you think it looks like something up your alley, or if you just want to see an ensemble of really talented actors and actresses giving it their all.
Widows (2018) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: whenever Viola Davis has a badass moment.
Do another Shot: each time it cuts to a flashback.
One more Shot: if and when the multiple converging plot-lines finally come together in the climax.
Shotgun a Beer: **spoiler warning** If you saw the plot twist coming ahead of time.