‘Widows’ has a ridiculous caliber of talent behind it. It’s directed by Steve McQueen, Oscar winning director of 12 Years a Slave. It’s written by Gillian Flynn, author and screenwriter of ‘Gone Girl’. It stars (among many others) Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya and Liam Neeson, and has music by Hans Zimmer. It’s no surprise that with this amount of talent, a great film has been made. However, it does sometimes miss the heights of which it promises.
The story behind this film is fascinating. It’s actually based on a 1980’s ITV drama that ran for two series. The story shares a lot of the same plot beats, but the tone and politics behind it are much darker in this. It must be said that if you’re coming into this film expecting a classic heist romp, you’re going to be disappointed. Sure, the premise of the film promises one; after a group of armed robbers get killed when a job goes horribly wrong, their Widows have to finish the job before they get caught in the crossfire. However, this film has a much broader story, dealing with race, politics, love, loss and desperation.
For a heist film it is also very different because it has the confidence to not let the characters have fun. Even American Animals (for my money, still the best heist film of 2018) let its characters have a laugh during the planning stage before it all goes tits-up in the heist. This has none of it, and is much more about the widow’s necessity to do the job, rather than their desire.
The cast, unsurprisingly, are phenomenal. The film confidently kills off Liam Neeson and Jon Bernthal about a minute after introducing them, and from then on the female cast take centre stage. Viola Davis is a brilliant lead in this piece, with Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo backing her up with similar gusto. The stand out performance however is that of ‘Get Out’s’ Daniel Kaluuya. His performance as the uncompromising enforcer of a crime boss is breathtakingly brutal, and his terrifying intensity is something to behold.
So, with such a fantastic cast and great talent behind the camera, it’s a shame that it doesn’t quite deliver on the promises it gives the viewer. By refusing to have any fun at all, it robs some of the enjoyment that has become a staple of the heist genre. The ending is slightly rushed and a plot twist half way through, while satisfying, doesn’t quite pay off.
Overall, it’s still an entertaining film with a much deeper, powerful message. While it won’t be as well celebrated as 12 Years a Slave, it does warrant much praise for its incredible cast, slick editing and beautifully cool cinematography. If nothing else, it shows 2018 how good a female led heist film CAN be when not shackled to the memory of a decade-old franchise…