Heist movies are like drums – they need to be tight in order to work properly. Being taut isn’t quite enough, though. To really get the best out of them, you also need someone holding the sticks that knows exactly what they’re doing. And with 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen at the helm here, Widows has a drummer with impeccable timing, rhythm and technique.
2018 has been an unusually popular years for heist flicks. We’ve been treated to the tough and gruff (but surprisingly well-made) Den of Thieves, the similarly-titled but considerably slower and less violent King of Thieves, the smart and meta American Animals, the gentle tale of The Old Man and the Gun and the all-female Ocean’s 8. Each has its merits and charms, but none are quite Widows. Not only is it one of the crime movies of the year, it’s easily one of the best films released in 2018 full stop.
Mix the action of Den of Thieves, the feminist principles of Ocean’s 8 and the idea of amateurs taking on a big score from American Animals and you’ll have the general idea of this picture. But then factor in the talent of its Oscar-winning director, the source material of Lynda La Plante and peerless adaptation skills of Sharp Objects’ Gillian Flynn and you’ll start to understand what elevates Widows from caper movie to Academy Award contender.
If you think the names behind the camera are accomplished, wait until you hear who’s actually in the thing… There’s Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Cynthia Erivo, Jacki Weaver, Daniel Kaluuya, Jon Bernthal and Liam Neeson (among other recognisable figures). Calling Widows’ cast ‘ensemble’ is like saying the Hatton Garden Robbery was ‘worth a few quid’.
Not only is it one of the crime movies of the year, it’s easily one of the best films released in 2018 full stop.
The premise? An experienced gang of Chicago-based armed robbers botch a job and all end up dead. Their target? A hungry young politician who also happens to be a vicious gangster. As the money burned up with the men, he decides that the debt falls to the widows, headed up by Veronica (Davis). She’s given two weeks to come up with $2m. Which, as you’ll appreciate, is no easy ask.
Her plan is to gather the widows of her husband’s crew, prepare for and carry out a robbery to save their lives and make a little money to spare. Which, given that none of them are actually criminals themselves, is where the hook of the film lies. Veronica’s hope being that who they are means they can better get away with their plan. As she tells her newly-formed crew in the film’s most trailer-ready line, “no one thinks we have the balls to pull this off!”
Davis is absolutely fearsome here, an absolute hurricane of barely contained grief, fear and rage. While she’s a powerhouse that easily carries the film, the film is rammed full of great performances. Daniel Kaluuya stands out as the main mobster’s psychopathic younger brother and main enforcer. Michelle Rodriguez proves she’s not just an action star and really flaunts her acting chops too.
Davis is absolutely fearsome here, an absolute hurricane of barely contained grief, fear and rage.
It’s The Night Manager’s Elizabeth Debicki who really impresses though, as a downtrodden and abused but beautiful widow who embraces the job after realising it’s a way to break free from her mistreatment and objectification. The Australian’s ability to simultaneously portray weakness and strength – both physically and emotionally – truly is something to witness.
Coming from the Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Turner Prize-winning director Steve McQueen, it’s easy to assume that we’re dealing with something of an arthouse film here. But we’re not. True, it’s clear that an experienced and quality filmmaker is at work, but McQueen has avoided too much nuance, subtext or obliqueness here. Widows is an all-action, hard-boiled, cynical, gripping and violent neo-noir crime thriller, that excites as much as it impresses. Few films like this offer equal portions of emotions and intelligence with their car chases and gunfights.
True, there are some rather minor missteps. There’s a twist that doesn’t fully convince and a couple of interesting backstories of the political figures that are hinted at but not satisfactorily explored. And, in its weakest moment, a flashback explaining the death of a main character’s teenage son is jarringly heavy-handed and simplistic. But that’s nitpicking.
Widows is smartly written, well adapted, superbly conceptualised and realised and directed with flair but grounding. It’s thrilling, touching and – ultimately – hugely satisfying.
Go see it.
Have you caught this near-perfect heist thriller yet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…