Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen swerves into the fast lane with an expertly plotted crime movie that’s a showcase for scrappiness.
After such imposing films as Hunger, Shame and 12 Years a Slave—the titles are punishing enough—you’d be forgiven for thinking British director Steve McQueen has a mean streak, if not toward his audiences, then his actors. Now comes Widows, which also has its fair share of suffering, mainly on the haunted face of Viola Davis. But McQueen has discovered something new. Should we call it fun? Let’s not get carried away. Still, Widows, a supercharged, Chicago-set caper of consummate skill, zooms along in a way that feels peppier than usual, McQueen brewing the action and ominous municipal intrigue like he was trying to outdo The Fugitive. He comes frighteningly close.
Three women dominate the story, giving it a survivor’s poise that Ocean’s 8, a high-collared pretender, could only dream of. They’re the recent widows of a deceased gang of high-stakes criminals, men who barely get any screen time. In their absence, Veronica (Davis) floats around her white-walled penthouse like a ghost, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) gets her thrift store sold from under her, and Alice, an abused blonde trophy wife (Elizabeth Debicki, who goes from fragile to fierce and runs away with the movie), is urged by her own mother to become an escort. As if economic freefall and grief weren’t enough, their husbands’ unfinished business shows up on their doorsteps, in the form of thugs demanding payment.
To watch the women coalesce into a hard-nosed crew of heisters is the year’s most purely pleasurable piece of transformation. (Even they’re a bit shocked by it: “We have a lot of work to do—crying isn’t on the list,” Veronica lashes.) McQueen, adapting a 1983 British TV miniseries with Gone Girl screenwriter Gillian Flynn, spikes the brew with unusual flavors, mainly involving a vicious, unpredictable enforcer (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) and – this being Chicago – the stench of dynastic political corruption, embodied by Colin Farrell’s up-and-coming alderman and his even worse father (Robert Duvall, explosive like he used to be). Cynthia Erivo brings much-needed warmth as a can-do hairdresser turned getaway driver. It’s a lot of plot for one sitting, but Widows will remind you how massively entertaining crime movies can be, especially when they’re animated by the spirit of cool-headed capability, onscreen and off.
Cast and crew