November 12, 2018

GENRE | Viola Davis Devours 'Widows'

"No one thinks we have the balls to pull this off."
Viola Davis Cynthia Erivo Gillian Flynn Steve McQueen | Widows

Acclaimed filmmaker Steve McQueen's latest sprawling feature is certainly a lot of movie. Ostensibly, a heist film with more than a few clear twists on the genre, Widows is a first-rate crime thriller packed with strong character performances throughout.

The indomitable Viola Davis stars as Veronica, the badass but restrained wife of Liam Neeson's criminal mastermind, Harry Rawlins. She's quickly forced into a corner when Harry's last robbery goes awry and she must pay off his debts despite having no obvious expertise of her own. Davis and Neeson's romantic chemistry is electric and the alternating flashbacks of timelines superbly anchors their characters' emotional arcs.

Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki round out the trio of titular widows who quickly set off to plan and execute Harry's last planned heist and pick up where their robber husbands left off. The three make for a somewhat unconventional but altogether engrossing lead cast of exceptional actresses who finely ground the film's constantly moving narrative. Debicki, in particular, gives an acting tour de force with such an eye-catching dramatization of human frailty.

Some of the film's best scenes feature Colin Farrell as the fed up heir to a Chicago political dynasty running for alderman to replace his aging yet demanding scion of a father (Robert Duvall) against another corrupt businessman in Brian Tyree Henry. As political animals and adversaries, both alternate as antagonist criminals and rivals with Daniel Kaluuya as Henry's brother and violent cohort. Kaluuya is devilishly evil and maniacal as a criminal enforcer while Henry's well-worn, frustration as a new political animal hints at a greater psychology.

Viola Davis Brian Tyree Henry Gillian Flynn Steve McQueen | Widows

Co-written by Gillian Flynn and loosely based on the 1980s British television series of the same name, her twisty hallmarks are all over the film while also exploring the seedy, hereditary nature of corrupt Chicago politics (and masculinity) amidst certain racial and criminal elements that connect most of the characters together. It's so stuffed with complex subplots and subtle explorations of gender dynamics while balancing its action and drama so artfully.

McQueen lightly comments on the social dynamics of the contemporary American landscape through local politics with conceptions of gangsterism and racial exploitation by rich elites at its centre. The film could have easily occupied a television miniseries' worth of episodes with all the layered intrigue deeply embedded into the various storylines.

Widows is a crackling popcorn thriller full of interesting twists on the heist genre. Its primarily female cast is aces in executing the tense material with some dazzling but unnerving direction. With a sprawling plot of interconnected dramatic tensions, it doesn't entirely satisfy every note, but the resolution of its character arcs are enough to make it such a stylish caper tightly focused on their desperation and survival.

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