Widows is a heist movie with a high-class sheen. It's director Steve McQueen's first film since he won an Oscar for 12 Years a Slave. He wrote the script with Gillian Flynn, from a TV series by Lynda La Plante. The cast includes A-Level stars like Viola Davis (one Oscar), Liam Neeson (one Oscar nomination), Robert Duvall (one Oscar), and Colin Farrell (hey, he has a Golden Globe). It has a bunch of "hey, it's that guy" players, all of them actors we like to see: Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Carrie Coon, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Garret Dillahunt, Cynthia Erivo, Jon Bernthal. It's genre fare, but with pretensions towards more. And it's worth noting that McQueen doesn't beat those pretensions over our heads. But I can't help thinking that those pretensions get in the way of Widows at times. It wants to be a great heist movie, but also more than a heist movie. But because McQueen is relatively subtle in working social context into the story, I got a bit antsy at times, wishing we could get back to the heist.
The problem is that there is too much extraneous material in the film. I haven't seen the TV mini-series, but I imagine there was plenty of room for expansive examinations of character and place. But Widows tells its story in just over two hours, which isn't enough time to fit everything in. There's a political subplot involving Farrell, Duvall, Henry, and others that isn't clearly necessary, beyond showing that corruption runs deep in Chicago. Davis plays a mother whose son died in the kind of way that screams relevance, and in real life, such events are terribly relevant, but here it just gets in the way, which is unfair to the subject and to Davis, who as usual acts up a quiet storm. I'd say there's a good 100-minute movie hiding in Widows, except I don't really object to what I've called extraneous, and I imagine for many people, the social context is what they'll like best.
There is plenty to like in Widows ... my complaining gives the wrong impression, this is a fine movie. The actors are uniformly great, although the script doesn't always serve them well ... Carrie Coon and Jacki Weaver in particular aren't given enough to do, so their characters lack depth. The plot involves four thieves whose caper goes bad, leaving their four wives up a creek. Those wives, led by Davis as Veronica, decide to pull off a heist of their own, based on information left to Veronica by her partner (Liam Neeson), who was involved in the caper-gone-bad. As is usual in such movies, each of the four has a unique personality, and to the extent those characters move beyond the stereotype, they make the movie. Davis is probably incapable of playing a shallow character ... Cynthia Erivo is very charismatic ... Elizabeth Debicki, all 6'3" of her, has the best arc, going from insecure victim to powerful badass (it's fun to see her in victim mode early on ... she seems to shrink before our eyes ... then, as she blossoms, that 6'3" towers over everyone, although she doesn't have a scene with Neeson). Michelle Rodriguez isn't asked to do much more than be Michelle Rodriguez, which is fine but she doesn't stand out amongst the foursome because there isn't a lot to her character. Finally, Daniel Kaluuya devours the screen as a bad guy who is a real bad guy.
Widows is entertaining, and even if I've moaned about the bloat, the social context ultimately adds to the film. There are some Oscar nominations to be found here, Davis for sure, but I'd like Debicki to get some love as well.
If you want a double-bill, try this one: