Jacob Richardson | 26/11/2018
The best movie of the year so far.
Widows centres on four women who have to repay a debt after their criminal husbands perish in a heist gone wrong. Led by Veronica (Viola Davis), the group, including Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo), must navigate the political climate fuelled by the battle between Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) and Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) and a murderous psychopath in Jatemme Manning (Daniel Kaluuya) to enact the remnants of the plan for a job that their husbands left behind.
Steve McQueen proves once again why he is the most masterful director working in Hollywood today. His grasp on compelling storytelling is unparalleled, and his ability to treat the audience as an informed, active viewer is both refreshing and commendable. He manages to take a massive cast, and give them all a well-rounded appearance on the screen.
His cast is undoubtedly one of heavy hitters, and here they are all performing at their peak. Daniel Kaluuya is absolutely terrifying as the killer brother of a wannabe politician. He has an animal energy, and you’re never quite sure what he is going to do. He is so calm, but can break out into violence at any point. McQueen uses the camera fluidly with Kaluuya, most notably in an early intense rotating tracking shot, and manages to convey this idea of a coiled cobra, ready to strike.
The group of husbands makes a reasonable impression, despite their relatively short screen time. Garret Dillahunt, too, does well with an intriguing driver character, despite limited screen time. As established politician Jack Mulligan, Colin Farrell walks a pitch perfect line between a detestably self-important gentrifier and a valid alternative to the secretly violent opponent.
Nevertheless, this is, as it should be, a movie anchored in the performances of the four female leads. Michelle Rodriguez is great as Linda, as is Cynthia Erivo as Belle. Viola Davis, as the leader of the group, is a powerhouse, and anchors the film both emotionally and from a plot perspective. She brings a gravitas to the story that otherwise might not be present, and in many respects that plays off perfectly against Elizabeth Debicki’s Alice. Debicki is far and away the standout of the film, and brings an outwardly pathetic exterior coupled with an (at first) buried inner strength to Alice. She encapsulates the beaten down victim of domestic violence who has to take her power back, and winds up being the character we care about most in the film.
As a story, Widows is strong. Centred around a typical heist structure, McQueen does enough around the structure and subverting the structure to create something unique yet workable. He also manages to pack a HUGE amount of information and story into otherwise innocuous segments. An example is Jack Mulligan’s car ride with his aide after a brief rally. In one unbroken shot, we get not only an idea of what Jack Mulligan’s policies are, and how they are received in the community, but also an understanding of the controversy surrounding him, the social disenfranchisement of the black community compared to the affluent white community in the area, the personal and public persona differences of the two Jack Mulligan’s, the relationship between Siobhan and Jack, the reluctance of Jack to pursue politics and the injustice suffered by his black driver. It is dense, complex, and worthy of a re-watch, but it is also smart and engrossing.
Indeed, much of the film is like this. It doesn’t shy away from complex messages, or complex ways of showcasing them. McQueen approaches this like a multi-layered painting. You get a feeling that if we scrub away the water-based topcoat, we might find an even more nuanced oil painting underneath. Because McQueen doesn’t do anything by halves, and that is why we get a Widows that isn’t only a thoroughly enjoyable, rollicking heist thriller, but also a deep and affecting musing on a range of social issues.
A breath of fresh air, Steve McQueen’s Widows is a must-see.