Widows

 

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Steve McQueen tackles the heist thriller and packs it with a quartet of stunning female performances. You won’t want to leave these women behind.

 
Widows

A head of steam: Michelle Rodriguez, Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki

 

It’s one thing to become a widow, another to inherit your husband’s debt. When Veronica, Linda and Alice discover that their menfolk have been incinerated in their getaway van – along with millions in stolen cash – some shadowy figures start calling. None of these wives approved of their partners’ criminal activity, which makes their punishment all the harder to swallow. However, when people find that they have no choice, they will invariably find a way. At least, they will try to…

 

There have been a lot of heist movies this year, even one with a bunch of female thieves. But this Ocean’s Three is the first to be based on a TV series, namely Lynda La Plante’s London-set, Bafta-nominated drama of 1983. And the film version has a major asset: its director and co-writer Steve McQueen. It was he who, in 2013, became the first black man to direct a film that took home an Oscar for best picture (12 Years a Slave). In collaboration with Gillian Flynn (who adapted Gone Girl from her own novel), he has condensed the series’ myriad plot strands into a taut, gripping powder keg of female empowerment. With clean simplicity, he packs essential narrative detail into every scene, but never at the expense of its power or realism. The result is a cinematic boa constrictor, a sleek behemoth that gently encircles the viewer until, in the second hour, it starts to tighten its grip.

 

Having said that, the film does open with a shock. It’s typical McQueen: pushing the envelope of what we have come to expect in the cinema, breaking down the barriers of the norm. He then cuts to the scene of the original heist, which unravels in some murky corner of Chicago where everything goes to hell. In stark contrast, we then jump back to the serenity of Veronica’s apartment, whose white walls and upholstery neatly juxtaposes the darkness of her soul. As Veronica, Viola Davis grounds the psyche of the film, her presence fastening the nuts and bolts of her character’s path to redemption. But she’s in good company. It’s not often that one sees so many terrific female performances in one film. And each actress brings a whole new perspective to the scenario: Michelle Rodriguez's timorous Latino mother who is forced to abandon her values for the greater good; Elizabeth Debicki's ditzy cool blonde who finds a strength she never knew she had; and the London-born Cynthia Erivo as a streetwise hairdresser who is not afraid to stand up to Veronica’s disdain. There’s also a wonderful turn from Robert Duvall as an angry bigot who, even at the age of 87, brings a muscular venom to his scenes. And for machismo support there’s also Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya and, in flashback, Liam Neeson.

 

On the surface, Widows may be perceived as just another gut-punching heist thriller, but it’s a masterful one. McQueen directs with a fist concealed in a velvet glove, delighting the eye as he accelerates the heartbeat. More significantly, he addresses a slew of critical and hugely relevant issues, from race and female emancipation to inner-city corruption and familial frailty and brings it all to a mainstream audience.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Garret Dillahunt, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Lukas Haas, Matt Walsh, Kevin J. O'Connor, Molly Kunz, Eric C. Lynch, Jon Michael Hill, Ann Mitchell.

 

Dir Steve McQueen, Pro Steve McQueen, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Arnon Milchan, Screenplay Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn, Ph Sean Bobbitt, Pro Des Adam Stockhausen, Ed Joe Walker, Music Hans Zimmer, Costumes Jenny Eagan.

 

Regency Enterprises/Film4/See-Saw Films-20th Century Fox.

129 mins. UK/USA. 2018. Rel: 6 November 2018. Cert. 15.