Film Review – Widows
Director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Shame) decided to take on a film showcasing women finding their strength in Widows. With a screenplay by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl, Sharp Objects) and based on the novel of the same name by Lynda La Plante, the film endeavors to showcase the transformation of women from lesser counterparts in marriages or relationships to the struggle of finding their voice through strife and threats.
The film opens unusually with a robbery gone wrong in which all the men die. Intercut with the robbery are glimpses of these men’s lives with their wives or girlfriends. The only woman treated well on the surface is Veronica (Viola Davis) and her husband, Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson). Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) is being lied to and in debt by her husband Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) is in an abusive relationship with Florek (Jon Bernthal), and Jimmy (Coburn Goss) doesn’t seem very supportive of Amanda (Carrie Coon) and their newly born son. It’s all for naught after all of these men die in an explosive shoot-out with police. It is these women who are left to pick up the pieces and pay back a massive debt.
Widows is a multi-layered film, not centering wholly on these four women, but the underlying shady dealings that these dead men left behind for the women to deal with the repercussions. The other story taking place at the same time is a race for ward alderman in a Chicago district. The heir apparent, Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), is taking to task his competition, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). While all of this looks like the rich white man against a poorer local black man with his people’s best interests, this film, and its interweaving stories are never what they seem. Jamal’s brother, Jatemme Manning (Daniel Kaluuya), is not an innocent supporter of Jamal’s campaign. Jamal is a gang leader, and Jatemme is the enforcer. Jack is far from innocent in any of this but is being pressured to race against Jamal because his father, Tom (Robert Duvall), was previously the alderman for many years. Harry Rawlings has also dealt with the Mulligan family many times over the years, leading the audience to think about corruption immediately.
These two stories, the widows and the campaign for alderman, are weaved together as soon as Jamal shows up at Veronica and Harry’s posh condo and demands the two million dollars stolen from him. Veronica has a month to pay him back or else. There lies the setup for the climax of the film, when four women take on a complicated, high-stakes robbery on their own.
Widows’ many stories don’t end up to be the film the audience expects to see, and that is a good thing. The plot is complicated, but not overly so, and nothing is what it seems at the beginning. From the trailers, Widows comes off as a film of women doing it for themselves with no reliance on men. It’s not that entirely. It’s because of these men’s decisions and consequences of their deaths that the women have to band together and repay a debt that comes with a death threat. The complicated part of it is how all these women and men connect and how the women find their way out of it.
The biggest strengths of this film are the script and the actors. With the script, as previously mentioned, the characters’ stories are not one-sided, and their motivations and backgrounds are not what they seem. Each main character’s life is peeled back ever so slightly as the film progresses and no one is what they seem. With a powerhouse director and screenwriters, it is evident why so many big-name actors joined this production. Viola Davis as Veronica is the star of the film; as the wife of the ringleader of the robbery gang, she also becomes the leader of women following in the men’s absence. She is a strong woman, and any doubts she had as to her capabilities are gone by the end. She holds people at a distance, including her now deceased husband, at a distance due to what has happened in her life. She willingly chose to be ignorant of her husband’s dealings and now pays the price for it. She holds the women at a distance also, determined to only have a relationship based on this one job, and after that, she does not want to see them again. She is protective of herself but also so much, so she is isolating herself from any meaningful relationships and the chance to grieve properly. Viola is a master at both concealing her character’s feelings by the stern expression but also knows when to let it go and show her vulnerability.
Second to Viola’s performance is Elizabeth Debicki’s portrayal of Alice. She has a true transformation from an abused wife/girlfriend to a woman standing on her own with plenty of education on the world in the process. The woman was entirely dependent on Florek and is directionless after his death. Her mother played by Jacki Weaver is not helpful in any way and further degrades her daughter for having no talent and no occupation, pushing her towards her own escort service. Resolved to be independent (somewhat), she does become an escort but ends up with only one client, an architect played by Lukas Haas. She evolves slowly to knowing her worth and what she is capable of, and it does not involve having to be taken care of by a man. Debicki, towering over her fellow actors, takes this not-so-bright, insecure woman to one that knows her place in the world and what it has taken from her to get to her ending.
The only complaint is the character development of Belle played by the accomplished and brilliant Cynthia Erivo. She is not a widow, and her character is thrown in as a last resort. While Belle is the fastest of them all and is brought in as a last resort, her addition to the film and the group of widows came off as more of a resolution of a plot hole than any meaningful storyline like the rest of the characters.
Widows is a whirlwind of character revelations and transformations, and there is a gradual build-up to the climax through unexpected twists and turns. The majority of the robbery’s details are kept hidden from the audience, and that makes it more dramatic and surprising. Yes, this is a story about women finding their strength, but it does not come off as pandering to the audience in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The story and the actors in Widows are not to be underestimated, and the final act is worth the price of admission alone.