About half an hour into Steve McQueen’s Widows, I found myself questioning whether the filmmaker could really pull this picture off - will it, with its topsy turvy plot and clown car of characters, prove a haphazard and bloated endeavor or a deliciously dizzying heist yarn? The answer, I am pleased to report, is far more the latter than former.
The film, McQueen’s first effort since 12 Years a Slave barnstormed the Oscars five years ago, is a dazzling piece of entertainment that expertly puts to work its starry cast. To know it is presently struggling to catch fire at the box office is a disheartening development to say the least.
Viola Davis, in one of her very best big screen turns, headlines the proceedings as Veronica Rawlings, a lobbyist for the Chicago Teachers Union who is widowed following the death of husband Harry (Liam Neeson), a notorious thief killed amidst a police shootout. Shortly after his passing, Veronica is approached by crime boss and aspiring politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who informs her Harry robbed him and his partners of $2 million. Manning presents Veronica with a deathly deadline - get him his money or face the consequences.
Rattled by Manning’s entrance into her life, Veronica comes upon a notebook Harry left behind, detailing a heist plan that, if executed, would secure $5 million. Unable to carry out such a mission on her own, Veronica reaches out to the widows of the other gunned-down thieves to assist in the operation. Two - Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) - reluctantly accept and get the ball rolling on this daunting assignment.
Meanwhile, amidst their undertaking, there is a contentious local election being waged between Manning and Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the latter the son of a seasoned Chicago politician (Robert Duvall). Manning is counting on those millions from Veronica to finance his campaign, while Mulligan, no surprise, will also find himself tangled up in the madness at play.
Like a roller coaster ride, Widows proves an anticipation-building slow burn through much of its early-going, only to gradually accelerate into pitch-perfect pandemonium. The script, written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn, is sharp and unpredictable and provides every actor, from Davis and Debicki to Daniel Kaluuya and Jacki Weaver (in memorably menacing turns), with heaps of meat to chew on. Henry continues to prove himself one of today’s great up-and-coming actors, while the veteran Duvall vibrantly plays every precious moment on screen like a possible Oscar clip.
Widows is an all-around marvelous picture that should be a grand crowd-pleaser…if only such crowds would get their asses into the theater to see it.