The name Steve McQueen is synonymous with two important Hollywood figures. One of them is a legendary actor who was known for his roles in films such as: The Great Escape, Bullitt, and The Magnificent Seven. The other is a more recent director whose filmography includes: Hunger, Shame, and 12 Years a Slave. Director Steve McQueen tends to focus his films around very dark and gritty subject matter that is weaved around some kind of social message. 12 Years a Slave, for example, is a true story about a free black man who’s kidnapped and sold into slavery. It’s an extremely hard film to watch but due to that structure, it really hammers its point across in a memorable way. McQueen’s newest film, entitled Widows, is in the same vein of his previous work, but strives for more of a mainstream audience appeal.
Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) is a prolific thief. Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) is his stern, down-to-earth wife. When Harry and his crew are killed during a robbery gone wrong, Veronica and the wives of his crew are left both mentally and financially devastated. Soon after, a man that Harry robbed confronts Veronica about his missing funds. He tells her that she has a month to pay him back or the consequences will be dire. Veronica decides to form a partnership with the wives of Harry’s crew in order to rob a target and get the necessary money before time runs out.
While Widows was initially very low on my radar, the fact that Steve McQueen directed it made it a film that actually began to entice me more and more. And I’m glad it did because the film is absolutely brilliant in so many countless ways. While a lot of directors have a very hard time attempting to get a single point across without it feeling ham-fisted or exposition-heavy, Steve McQueen perfectly addresses issues of politics, sex, and race with an elegant and smooth approach. Everything simply blends together in a tight little package that never overstays its welcome.
In addition to its excellent handling of messaging, the film features astounding performances from the entire cast. Viola Davis ignites the screen with a power and stamina that makes you hold on her every word. Elizabeth Debicki shows off her talent by realistically playing a woman who is both strong and slightly naive at the same time. However the true standout of the film is Daniel Kaluuya. His performance as an intimidating and chilling thug completely left me in awe. The sheer pleasure he takes from harming others felt incredibly disturbing.
Aside from the story and characters, the audio and video presentation is beyond reproach. There’s a perfect grittiness to all the action scenes and even smaller moments feature significant weight due to specific sounds highlighting key character beats. Also, how specific shots are composed lend additional meaning to messages already presented within scenes. One of these instances for example is simply comprised of two characters sitting inside a car while having a conversation about race. The way in which the camera follows the conversation is slightly jarring at first but then it begins to highlight a deeper meaning into what the scene is truly about. It’s aspects like those that make the film much richer and appealing than a typical mainstream release.
While I was searching for some type of fault within the film, there wasn’t anything that caught my attention. Widows is a bold, social commentary wrapped in a heist film that’s sprinkled with dazzling filmmaking techniques. It’s a film that definitely should not be overlooked.
Synopsis: Four women must take on their husbands’ debt and pull off a perfect heist in a limited amount of time.
Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen
Stars: Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez
Runtime: 2 Hours, 9 Minutes