Even Oscar can’t ignore this heist
is a deft and pointed excavation of a city and a nation at undeclared war.
Widows (R16, 129 mins) Directed by Steve McQueen Reviewed by Heist movies get a pretty short shrift at awards season.
As with horrors, the people who hand out the baubles are far too quick to dismiss any watchable crime drama as somehow not worth taking seriously.
Tell me with a straight face that Michael Mann’s Heat isn’t a better film than Babe, Sense and Sensibility and Il Postino. But those three all scored Best Picture nominations in 1995, while Heat came away with nothing.
You’ll have to go back to 1973 and The Sting to find an Oscarwinning heist movie. But maybe, with critical darling Steve McQueen (Hunger, 12 Years a Slave) in the director’s chair, Widows might be the film to break the drought. It sure would be deserved.
In present-day Chicago, an armed robbery goes catastrophically wrong. The four assailants are trapped and gunned down in a firestorm. Surviving the dead are four tough – some deceptively so – women.
Two are mothers to young children. All four are struggling, with no legal way to access their husbands’ ill-gotten wealth. Then, just when things couldn’t get much worse, the victim of the robbery, an ex-gang leader now running for office amidst the bare-knuckled corruption of Chicago politics, turns up wanting his incinerated $2 million restored.
With one month to raise the money, the women set about enacting the gang’s own playbook, to take a $5 million score from an unnamed mark, in a building they don’t even know the location of.
Described like that, Widows sounds like not much more than a grittier take on Ocean’s 8, with a gang of spunky wa¯ hine subverting the genre while providing a few spills and thrills along the way.
At its most superficial level, Widows is that film, with plenty of action and a peppering of true brutality to speed things along. But McQueen and writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) have much more on their minds. Widows ticks the boxes of a slow-burn – perhaps too slow for some – heist movie. But it is also a deft and pointed excavation of a city and a nation at undeclared war.
Race and gender matter in this film, in a way that is far more than liberal-baiting window dressing. There are no solutions offered, only the maturity to make the conversation an explicit part of the narrative.
Every character on screen is a well-rounded and perfectly believable creation and no one is here just for the optics.
But Widows still functions at least partly as a bleak postmorality tale, set in a singularly Trumpian America. Think of Widows as a cousin to Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, but from a perspective that is neither white nor male.
Among a seriously good cast, Viola Davis (Fences )is astonishing as boss Veronica, and Michelle Rodriguez (the Fast & Furious franchise), Cynthia Erivo (Bad Times at the El Royale) and Elizabeth Debicki (MacBeth) are all fine as her gang.
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out ) is mesmerising as a sociopathic enforcer for would-be politician Bryan Tyree Henry (Atlanta).
Colin Farrell and a perfectly pitched Robert Duvall are the remnants of a Chicago dynasty still clinging to power.
Widows is a marriage between Flynn’s instinct for the twist and the strong female lead and McQueen’s flair for the frame and visual metaphor.
It has produced one of the strongest films of 2018. Terrifically recommended.
Elizabeth Debicki is one of the widows who undertakes a daring heist.