“Widows” Movie Review


     Director Steve McQueen’s “Widows” aims to be one those gritty streetwise thrillers in which the characters within the story are all in some way on the wrong side of the law.  There are no good guys to root for in other words, as each and every person seems to be in need of a major moral adjustment, even if some of these characters are forced into acts of desperation.  Based on the book by Lynda La Plante and adapted by McQueen and Gillian Flynn, “Widows” achieves its goal of creating a brutal crime underworld where crooks, politicians, and gangsters are seemingly all one in the same.  Taking place within a ward in Chicago in which the poor and the rich are just blocks away from one another, it appears everyone is either on the take, or directly involved in some form of criminal enterprise, with only those who are willing to cross the line surviving within the high stakes game of money and power.

     McQueen clearly seeks to make a statement about class and the disproportionate  distribution of wealth amongst our population.  Early on we meet Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson), as he and his crew find themselves in a shoot out after stealing a large sum of money in what appears to be a professional and well organized job.  But suddenly their get away plan goes awry when the police are waiting for them outside of their transition location and the entire team is killed.  Problem is, the money they stole, which is incinerated in an explosion, belongs to a prominent local gangster who is obviously not thrilled with the substantial loss.

     That gangster, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), also happens to be running for the ward’s recently vacated city counsel seat when the long time representative, Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall), is forced to step down due to health reasons.  His adversary in the race is Tom’s son, Jack (Colin Farrell), which has set up a race against the most powerful and wealthy family in the ward.  And the money that was stolen from Mannings?  That was money earned through criminal exploits and was meant to be used as the war chest in the campaign.  So much for Chicago’s campaign finance laws.

     We learn early on that each of the men killed within Harry’s crew have significant others, and the first place Jamal and his brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) look for payback is the women who once stood at the side of each of these men, even though they were fully aware of how the bills were being paid.  And given Harry was the known leader who had an apparent understanding with Jamal’s crew as far as turf, Jamal first makes contact with Harry’s wife, Veronica (Viola Davis). Of course, this meeting is a blatant attempt to intimidate, as well as force her to liquidate her substantial assets in order to pay back the money her deceased husband stole from them.

     But a look inside Harry’s safe deposit box brings Veronica an interesting set of options, as the old school thief kept a journal of his past criminal activities, as well as his upcoming and planned jobs.  One of which could yield the millions necessary to pay back Jamal and set the participants up for life.  And because she chooses to embark on the extremely perilous attempt at stealing this money, Veronica recruits two of the women whose significant others perished along with hers, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), in order to have the bodies necessary to complete the job as is detailed in Harry’s journal.  It’s actually a pretty nifty set up as far heist stories go, changing the dynamic completely in that it is now a crew of capable and badass women who are doing the dirty work and are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.  After all, their lives certainly depend on it.

     Perhaps the most standout aspect of “Widows” is the outstanding ensemble assembled by McQueen and the fierce commitment to the roles clearly demonstrated by each actor, who are all given plenty of great moments.  In truth, it’s actually surprising there were enough to go around, which is a clear testament to the writing.  The laid back go with the flow personality displayed by Daniel Kaluuya in “Get Out” and “Black Panther” is no where to be found here, as his Jatemme is a menacing figure throughout, clearly capable of unspeakable violence in a world where these acts are sadly so common.  The ever dependable Robert Duvall, playing the patriarch of the ward’s most powerful family, conveys the highly volatile gamesmanship necessary to ensure his son is armed with the tools necessary to continue the family’s generational dominance and possession of the kind of power needed to remain on top for years to come.  It’s the kind of power people not only lust after, but are willing to kill for.

     Ultimately though, this film belongs to Viola Davis, as she delivers one of her best performances, combining the emotional grief associated with losing her husband with the desperation needed in order to survive.  Just when the initial act gives the audience the typical indications the story will revolve around men, Davis’ Veronica steps in midway through and ensures we know exactly who is in charge.  GRADE: B+