After having examined the dehumanizing effects of prison (Hunger), the inescapable quality of sexual addiction (Shame) and the heinous nature of American slavery (12 Years a Slave), tackling a heist film seems beneath Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen. Yet there’s much more at play in his latest, “Widows” than meets the eye.
Based on the novel by Lynda La Plante, the screenplay by Gillian Flynn and McQueen is a dense one as political corruption, racial equity and gender politics drive this crime drama about three women who find themselves in over their head when they find their husbands have left them a massive debt they’ll have to go to great lengths to repay. When a heist led by criminal mastermind Harry (Liam Neeson) goes awry and the loot he and his partners abscond with burns up in a fire, their target, former drug dealer, now candidate for alderman Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry) comes looking for his missing $2 million. He approaches Harry’s widow Veronica (Viola Davis), reasoning she would have access to large sums saved from previous jobs. Unfortunately, while he was a good thief, the recently deceased was a crappy financial planner as his coffers at the time of his death were nearly empty. However, he did leave behind a notebook with reams of incriminating information on a myriad of high profile figures and a plan for his next job worth $5 million.
Drastic times call for drastic measures, so with a month to repay her husband’s debt, Veronica approaches the widows of the others in Harry’s crew with the idea of pulling off the heist he’d planned. Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) recognize this for the piece of insanity that it is but also know Manning will send his psycho enforcer of a brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) to pay them a call if the debt remains unpaid, leaving them little choice.
What politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Ferrell) has to do with this I'll leave for you to discover. The film has a helluva twist halfway through the proves surprising yet plausible while McQueen does a fine job keeping all the script’s narrative balls in the air. Equally impressive is the director’s deft sense of pacing, a deceptive approach that slowly but steadily builds to a satisfying conclusion replete with the pyrotechnics expected in genre exercises of this sort and the emotional resonance that does its themes justice. There are a couple of moments that are a bit too convenient in terms of narrative circumstances that prevent the film from achieving perfection. Yet, this is an uncommonly good, complex thriller that engages the mind as well as quicken the pulse, making “Widows” an unexpected surprise in a crowded holiday movie season.