The new movie from British director Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave) is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, a new twist on the familiar heist movie with political overtones. Although it is to some extent a very familiar beast as a heist film, the plot has plenty of delightful twists, and I thought the characterizations and the cast were very compelling and the best part of the movie.
Viola Davis plays the wife of Liam Neeson, living very comfortably off his life of crime, of which she chooses to know nothing until a job goes wrong and wipes out him and his gang of thieves. Then, the gangster-turned-politician Neeson ripped off comes looking for the money, threatening Davis to come up with two million dollars or else. At about the same time, she finds her dead husband’s notebook detailing a job he was planning worth five million, and she enlists the help of the widows of Neeson’s crime-mates to carry it out to cover the debt and split the rest. Of course, a huge amount of tension comes from the question: can the completely amateur widows of professional thieves pull it off?
First of all, I have to say the cast is superb. Viola Davis is amazing as always, propelling the story with her determination, but I was equally impressed by her team-mates played by Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez. Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell as father-and-son political legacies are very good, particularly Farrell whose character had more dimension than I expected. Daniel Kaluuya is especially chilling as the gangster’s enforcer.
I really appreciated the socio-political flavour of the film, and how everyone came from these different class backgrounds that wold lead one to assume certain aspects of their personality, but often there would be more than would perhaps be convenient. The political race between the crooked establishment and the community led by a former criminal has some interesting facets and the whole thing is actually pretty challenging and complex the more you think about it.
The camera work and editing in the film is also very compelling. There is one camera move in particular where we follow Colin Farrell from making a speech in a run-down part of the city, into his car and across a few blocks to his political headquarters in a well-to-do neighbourhood, all in the span of a few minutes which really highlights the income inequality and social problems that give way to all kinds of crime.
Widows is definitely one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. It’s complex, it’s subtle, it’s challenging, it’s interesting, it’s fun and exciting when it needs to be but also makes you stop and think and care about what’s happening. I love it a lot.
And, as usual, Mark Kermode’s review nails it better than I ever could.