Widows, the latest work from Steve McQueen, is one of those rare heist films where the actual theft feels almost secondary. It is the characters and environment, both regionally and politically, they exist in that makes the film so thrilling.
After her husband Rawlins (Liam Neeson) and his crew are killed in a botched robbery, Veronica’s (Viola Davis) world is turned upside down. Barely having time to grieve, she is approached by a local crime lord-turned-politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) and his brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya, who delivers an exquisite and menacing performance) claiming Rawlins stole money from them that they want back. Having few options left, and Rawlins old notebook handy, Veronica concocts a plan where she and the other remaining widows (Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Erivo) will attempt to pull off a heist of their own.
Those going in expecting a Set It Off style heist film will be in for a surprise. McQueen constructs a thriller that both crackles with tension and offers a searing political commentary on the state of politics in America. The corrupt nature of survival politics, where politicians care more about saving their careers than helping the people they were elected to represent, is effectively conveyed both in the dialogue and the film’s assured camerawork.
One of the standout scenes in the film is a simple shot where the camera is placed outside a car as politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) and his assistance argue about political legacy inside the vehicle. As the camera slowly pans from one side mirror to the next, the audience becomes aware of the way the environment changes from impoverished to affluent despite only going a few meters in the same district.
The class divide is effectively captured amongst the women as well as the other widows have much more to lose than Veronica does. This allows the stakes to grow even higher with each passing frame. Widows does an excellent job of displaying the various ways the men in their lives, and those making decisions for the community, have taken advantage of the women.
Smartly spending more time fleshing out his characters than he does focusing on the planning of the heist, and not shying away for the political undertones, Steve McQueen’s Widows is a taut and entertaining experience.
Thursday, September 13, 9:30 PM, Princess of Wales
Sunday, September 16, 6 PM, Elgin Theatre