Widows (2018) (a film review by Frank Ochieng)

Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen (’12 Years a Slave’) commits a notable heist of his own that has nothing to do with his capable feminine felons’ gutsy gumptions in the gritty urban crime caper ‘Widows’. McQueen’s big score is assembling an all-star cast in this ultra-slick theft thriller, a casting heist of a different hue worth getting sticky fingers over. Indeed, the tense and solid ‘Widows’ is a guaranteed steal for both an adventurous filmmaker such as the skilled McQueen and the audience whose privilege it is to engage in this robust modern crime drama.

McQueen, who is heralded for his elegantly sweeping historical dramas, demonstrates his visionary resiliency in switching gears as he tackles a multi-layered feminist robbery romp steeped in depth, definition, and defiance. ‘Widows’  does take the liberty to juggle its identity while flirting with various genres in the making. Curiously part estrogen-driven heist flick, part corruptible political potboiler and part gangsta fable in the hood, ‘Widows’ never seems as if it is taking on more than it can chew courtesy of McQueen’s astute directorial pacing.

The structured intrigue that is intertwined criminally and politically fittingly accommodates the probing suspense. ‘Widows’ had what ‘Ocean’s 8’ could not pull off in its bid for girl-power grit: intelligence, genuine angst-ridden characterizations and an overall knack for riveting storytelling. Co-screenwriters McQueen and Gillian Flynn (‘Gone Gir’) conjure up a devilish landscape of brimming corruption and chaos amongst the varied principle players.

McQueen is no fool when tapping the services of one of the most gifted and versatile actresses working on the scene in cinema today, -Academy Award-winning Viola Davis (‘Fences’). Davis can read a label on a rusty soup can and mesmerize the moviegoer in the process. As the lead, Davis plays Veronica Rawlings, a Chicago-based former teachers union rep who appears blissfully married to her husband Harry (Liam Neeson, ‘The Commuter’).

The lovey-dovey Rawlings are on Cloud 9 until the unthinkable happens. Harry, the leader of a bunch of thieves trying to transfer dirty money in a van are suddenly wiped out and made mincemeat by the local authorities. Understandably distraught, the newly widowed Veronica feels abandoned by her true love Harry in a botched job gone deadly. Now, where does Veronica go from here?

Apparently, deceased Harry had been a very bad boy due to his enormous $2 million dollar debt owed to local menacing crime kingpin/politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). Unfortunately for Veronica, she is paid an ominous visit by the intimidating criminal and told that she has one month to pay off her dead hubby’s debt to him otherwise she will ultimately pay the price for Harry’s monumental misdeeds. Obviously, Jamal Manning is a tough customer that Veronica cannot afford to tangle with under any circumstances. Added to the pressured threats includes another twisted Manning in the form of Jamal’s sicko baby brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya, ‘Get Out’).

Viola Davis reveals the naked truth in the frothy feminine heist flick WIDOWS

Feeling the immediate wrath of the monstrous Mannings, Veronica must meet up with the other widows and convince them to join her for a grand heist that could solve all of their monetary miseries not to mention sparing their endangered lives in the process. Struggling single mother Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), tall blonde boytoy-magnet Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), and later on part-time babysitter/beauty salon worker Belle (Cynthia Erivo) are on a mission that could prove costly if not executed precisely. Their departed husbands got them into this mess but the no-nonsense and strategic Veronica Rawlings will prevail. She has no choice not to do otherwise.

The twists and turns are quite compelling in ‘Widows’. Some may find the political saga involving the severely shady Manning siblings versus the opportunistic yet antagonistic Mulligan father-son team (Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell) a bit meandering and inconsequential as these dubious familial dynasties want to control the city’s problematic boundaries engulfed in societal confliction. But why not? After all, deteriorating urban cities such as Chicago are dripping with political poisoning and crime-ridden callousness at the expense of the impoverished masses. The political sub-plot never distracts from what the film’s central pulse is conveying regarding the desperate deeds of four weary women operating on borrowed time.

Masquerading as a cerebral popcorn flick with an inherent cunning messaging about shifty womanhood pushed to the legal limit, ‘Widows’ is dashing entertainment and the incomparable Viola Davis is its strong, shining centerpiece saddled in the inspired manufactured madness of McQueen’s concrete jungle of municipal despair.  


Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodrigues, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Brian Tyree Henry, Cynthia Erivo and Alejandro Verdin

Directed by: Steve McQueen III

Rated: R

Studio(s): 20th Century Fox, Film4, New Regency Pictures, Regency Enterprises, See-Saw Films

Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)

(c) Frank Ochieng (2018)


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