The Movie Guru: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki best things about ‘Widows’
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Rated: R for violence, language throughout and some sexual content and nudity.
Screenplay by: Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen.
Based on: “Widows” by Lynn Plante.
Directed by: Steve McQueen.
Starring: Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Kaluuya and more.
Grade: Three stars.
Despite the plot hook, “Widows” is far more of a psychological thriller than it is a heist movie.
That’s no surprise from Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen, best known for the harrowing “12 Years a Slave” and making Michael Fassbender suffer on camera. McQueen loves putting characters through their emotional paces, and “Widows” gives a fantastic cast of women the chance to delve deep. If you watch this movie for no other reason, it’s worth it just to see some of the best actresses in Hollywood command the screen.
The movie starts with a heist that goes very wrong, leaving the entire team dead and the money in ashes. The criminals-turned-politicians who lost the money want it back, and they’re happy to threaten the widows of the dead thieves to get it back. Since their husbands’ deaths left them destitute, the women instead decide to use the plans their husbands left them to pull off a heist that will get them the money they need.
Though we do see certain elements of the plan come together, the real focus is on the emotional journey the women go through to get themselves ready for the heist. Their worlds are rocked by their husband’s deaths, and they’re forced to reevaluate who they are as people and find unexpected resources. They might be preparing for a heist, but they’re also preparing for life alone.
Viola Davis is as fantastic as you’d expect, a tower of strength still haunted by memories of a happy marriage and the son she lost years before. Davis shows us every inch of the character’s defensiveness and pain, cracks forming in her foundation as old coping mechanisms struggle to deal with the new situation. Elizabeth Debicki is equally engaging as an abused, jobless woman who slowly discovers her own sense of inner power and competence.
There’s also a strong theme showing that “legitimate” and “illegitimate” members of society are really just two sides of the same coin. The women are trapped between two political opponents, a local criminal trying to break into politics and the son of a longtime political family that has a long history of behind-the-scenes crime. Though one gets invited to nicer parties, there’s really no difference between them.
Even the women that this story this focuses on reflects that. Davis’ character had a nice life as a lobbyist for the school board, but her husband’s work was just as criminal as Michelle Rodriguez, whose husband lost the deed to her store through gambling debts. Cynthia Erivo is the sweetest woman in the movie, great with kids, but she also has her own gun and knows how to use it. Everything’s got teeth — the only difference is whether you can see it or not.
There’s a lot of insight here, but if you’re looking for thrilling plot escapades you might want to go to another movie (there are a few juicy moments, but they’re the exception rather than the rule). In the end, complicated heists are the kind of crime “Widows” is least interested in.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.