FILM REVIEW – WIDOWS. With Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Collin Farrell, Liam Neeson. Written by Gillian Flynn & Steve McQueen. Directed by Steve McQueen. Rated R for violence, language throughout, and some sexual content/nudity. 129 minutes.
A good heist movie requires a solid set-up so that we care about the characters as they plan their crime. It should involve a complex operation where things might not go as expected, with a few twists along the way. WIDOWS has all this to spare, with a solid cast propelling us through to the end.
The film opens with Harry (Liam Neeson) and his partners pulling off a job that goes very wrong, ending in a fiery explosion. The robbery was of the campaign funds for Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry), running for Chicago alderman in a district long controlled by the family of Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall), who is now trying to place his son Jack (Colin Farrell) in office. Jamal and his brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) are not above using violence to recover the money, with Harry’s widow Veronica (Viola Davis) being threatened if she doesn’t replace the missing funds.
Although well-heeled, Veronica can’t meet his demands so she contacts Linda (Michelle Rodiguez) – who has lost her clothing shop due to her late husband’s gambling debts – and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), who has become a call girl to make ends meet. All desperate, the women get a hold of one of Harry’s future plans, which he recorded in a notebook, deciding to do it themselves. Belle (Cynthia Erivo) is later brought in to be the driver when their original plans have to change.
Director Steve McQueen (who adapted Lynda LaPlante’s novel with Gillian Flynn), has a lot of balls in the air here. The characters are working at cross purposes, often violently. Some of the plot lines might seem like distractions, but that’s the point. There are moments where things are set up that don’t pay off until much later, so we’re never quite sure what to focus on, with McQueen often catching us off-guard.
There are a lot of good performances here, none of which are likely to turn up at the Oscars or year-end awards, but with so much talent on hand there’s no wasted time. Davis, Rodriguez, and Debicki are standouts playing women forced to navigate in new worlds as they try to gain control of their lives. Farrell’s reluctant politician probably warrants a separate film, particularly in the glimpses we get of his life with his father. And Kaluuya, so effective as the victimized center of “Get Out,” is scary as his brother’s enforcer.
“Widows” is an entertaining thriller that grabs you from the start and puts you through the wringer. It may not be art, but it’s rattling good entertainment.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.