LFF 2018 Widows review: Viola Davis and the crew astound in Steve McQueen’s new film

  • Widows (2018)

With its phenomenal cast and a heist story that gives us a deep insight into the character’s lives in its most dramatic moments, Widows is a terrific, slick thriller that keeps the audience on the edge until the credits roll.

widows review steve mcqueen

Widowed by a notorious gangster Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson), Veronica tries to keep her life together. Forced to comprehend the reality of his criminal activity, she’s quickly targeted by Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) a gangster-cum-aspiring-politician and his brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya). Unbeknownst to her, Harry stole two million dollars off the gangster who wants his money back no matter the cost, even if it means selling her house and possessions. Shocked by the revelations, she locates the women who also buried their husbands after the heist went wrong. Both of them suffer after their partners’ passing: Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) is kicked out of her shop, and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) struggles to find the money to live. Both are made an offer they cannot refuse: using the notebooks and plans left behind by Harry, they plan to organise a heist to get the money and pay the mobsters back.

Using the British TV show written by Lynda de Plante as an inspiration and moving it from London to Chicago, Steve McQueen brings us a murky, tense film that doesn’t slow down for a second. The director uses the entire arsenal of approaches to build tension, reveal feelings and play with characterisation. Amid the violence it depicts, it takes us through the domestic lives of the characters, showcasing the place they’re in. The flashbacks throughout the film carefully incorporate the ways of dealing with grief: Veronica tries to reckon with her husband’s absence, finding herself overwhelmed time after time. These moments are brief but leave a mark on the narrative, bringing her motivations to life. And when a conversation of a corrupted politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) with his assistant takes over the screen, McQueen keeps the camera on the moving car without allowing us to look in, as if we were listening to a tape that gives us a chance to snoop behind the scenes of the local politics.

Davis is cast perfectly as Veronica, a woman who doesn’t give in to the criminals’ wishes and inspires the other women to do the same. With one cold stare, she can send shivers down the viewer’s spine, only to woo us with her vulnerability as we see her dealing with anguish and shock. She leads an all-star cast of terrific performers: Rodriguez cuts through the screen with her sharpness, while Debicki softens the ensemble and introduces unexpected laughs to the story. They’re accompanied by Cynthia Erivo who shines as Belle, a tough getaway driver for the group – she manages to steal the show a few times. Farrell suffocates us with cynicism as a politician who wants to keep the influence and money in his family, and Kaluuya terrifies with his stone-cold calmness playing an uncompromising gangster.

The decisions of men have a tremendous impact on each woman in the narrative; all of them are the victims of a plot created without their involvement. Be it business donations given by the politician to a business in hopes of swinging the vote or the criminal activities, the men’s actions change the circumstances of women who have little power to prevent them. None of them chose the life of crime, and someone else’s arrangements influenced their ability to stay afloat. All of them represent marginalised communities – the belonging to a racial or ethnic minority can come with a set of prejudices (reflected in the racist, xenophobic remarks made by Jack’s father played by Robert Duvall). The film allows them to take back control over their lives and reclaim the agency over their own destiny.

Widows opens as a part of the London Film Festival. Its wide UK release is set to be on the 6th of November 2018.

Kasia Kwasniewska

Editor in Chief

Passionate about far too many things. Loves reading, watching films, eyeing (and producing) good design, listening to music and stuffing her face with chocolate on a daily basis. Cooks from time to time, and drinks far too much coffee to be a normal human being. Liked my work? Buy me a coffee!

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