20th Century Fox
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Written by:Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen
Starring: Brian Tyree Henry, Colin Farrell, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez and Viola Davis
Everyone likes a heist movie, well nearly everyone, and the latest film from director Steve McQueen, Widows, is another entry in the genre. Based on the UK TV series written by Lynda La Plant, McQueen’s version transplants the action to Chicago, and adds an edgy relevant depth to the proceedings. The explosive set up for the movie sees Liam Neeson and his gang of thieves being dramatically blown apart in a shoot out with the cops. A mysterious book is then presented to Neeson’s widow, played by Viola Davis, that contains all the details of previous heists and more importantly, the next one on the schedule. With his last job, Neeson has stolen $2 million from shady gangster politician Jamal Manning, and he wants the money back. He decides that the debt should fall to the wife of the robber, and Davis is given a month to come up with the 2 mill – or else. So Davis decides the wives of the deceased gang members have to get together to pull one final job, pay off the bad guys and keep the rest for themselves.
McQueen directs the film with plenty of style. There are long shots with plenty of dialogue, but there is a style that seems to pull you in, almost ambient and dreamlike, but effective and more engaging than a lot of the usual stuff we have to sit through to get a feel for the plot and characters. The cast here are all excellent, and everyone plays their part with conviction. The amazing Daniel Kaluuya is unnerving and disturbing as the violent henchman of Manning, and the female leads all excel in their roles. This is important in a film such as this, as a weak link in an ensemble piece can often undo the whole thing, but there is not a bad performance on screen. Colin Farrell playing political candidate Jack Mulligan and his on screen dad Robert Duvall also play well here and you can probably tell that there’s quite a lot of characters to juggle in the screenplay. That may be the only failing that the film has.
There’s so much going on, that you could be forgiven for forgetting about the actual heist. With a run time of 2 hours 9 minutes, the film still oddly feels rushed at the end. The actual heist seems to race by very quickly, and there are holes in the plot that are glossed over. The notebook that contains all the details of a heist that Neeson is known for planning meticulously, seems to omit some niggling details such as where exactly the job is meant to take place. We receive two scenes where characters have to try to find that info out. One of them, at the house of deceased architect, escalates quite quickly into an awkward screen kiss that seems tonally out of place, and improbable. The information they require would surely have been included in the journal, and it’s exclusion does nothing to push the plot forward, and instead leads to leg work that slows the pacing of the film down. There are a couple of instances like this that threaten to put the forward motion of the story into neutral, and perhaps more decisive editing would have avoided this.
However, when it’s all said and done, Widows is an enjoyable production that has great acting and direction, and a couple of twists that should keep you on your toes. I haven’t watched the original TV show, but I do know that is was very highly regarded when it aired here, and it does make me wonder if this re-telling may have actually worked better as a Netflix 6 episode series too. We will never know, but this is a good night at the movies and a recommended offering, and trust me, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to say that.