When their husbands are killed in a botched robbery, and the gangster they stole from comes demanding reparations, a group of widows are forced to pull off an impossible heist to save both themselves and their families. This involves them finding a getaway car, a driver, codes to a safe, and guns. Lots of guns. They don’t want to kill anyone, but when you’re backed into a corner, who knows what will happen?
Widows is a perfect encapsulation of the phrase, “a sum worth less than its parts.” When you break it down into individual ingredients, it’s got everything you’d need to make a hit. You’ve got the Oscar-winning director of 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen, a fascinating story with themes of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and a fantastic, and I mean fantastic cast. I really want to emphasize that last fact. Everyone delivers a terrific performance here. Even minor characters who are only in a couple scenes are played by world-class actors, giving it their all. Take Collin Farrell’s character, the man whom the widows eventually steal from. He’s got a racist dad, who appears onscreen for less than 10 minutes. Guess who plays the dad. Robert Duvall. Yeah. I could literally go through the entire cast, and tell you how good they all are, but then this review would never end. The point is, everyone, from Viola Davis as the leader of the widows, to Daniel Kaluuya as the psychotic brother of the gangster, is great. And the movie’s never boring. There are several, highly suspenseful sequences, from the opening job where the husbands are killed, to the final heist, that are perfectly shot, edited and scored. Hell, there’s one scene, shot outside of a car, where we’re just watching the landscape of Chicago shift, that made me go, “wow! That’s great filmmaking.” This is definitely a more crowd-pleasing flick than McQueen’s other efforts, and I could certainly see myself going back to it. So it’s terrifically acted, the central premise is great, it’s never boring, and the directing is top notch. Why then was I somewhat disappointed by it?
It all comes down to the script. It just isn’t up to the same level as the rest of the film. The ending is extremely rushed, with there being several, very important questions–is Elizabeth Debicki still working as a prostitute, did the gangster get his money, will there be any repercussions for what happened to Daniel Kaluuya–that never get answered. Certain characters, like Cynthia Erivo, who joins the widows as their getaway driver, get introduced way too late into the story. And in her case, her decision to join this extremely dangerous heist kind of comes out of nowhere. We don’t see her acting as a getaway driver beforehand. Hell, we don’t even see her drive until the robbery. She’s also not directly connected to the crime–she didn’t lose her husband in the opening heist, she’s just one of the other widows’ babysitter–so she really has no reason to be there. As a result, her decision to join the group feels unmotivated. And, finally, there are certain things that get brought up which never come back into play. For instance, in one scene, Michelle Rodriguez, the first widow to join Viola Davis, goes to interview a guy, learns that he lost his wife recently too, breaks down, and kisses him. Now, this guy never comes back into the film. We never touch base with Michelle Rodriguez about how she feels about this, or why she did what she did. It’s just thrown in, and then quickly discarded. WHich is frustrating, because I wanted to see more of that. And there are lots of moments like that in this film. As a result, the movie feels somewhat disjointed and incomplete, despite its terrific cast, amazing premise and great direction. I think part of this has to do with the fact that the script was co-written by Gillian Flynn, the woman behind Gone Girl. Her work is very structured, and narratively driven, unlike McQueen’s films, which tend to be more expressionistic, like moving art installations. So maybe their voices just didn’t mesh.
In the end, though, I think Widows is a flawed, but highly watchable film. It’s acting, cinematography and quick pace keep you from getting bored, and it’s lighter tone make it easier to revisit than McQueen’s other flicks. Make of this what you will.