Steve McQueen’s searing crime drama “Widows” was one of my most anticipated films of 2018. It was getting early Oscar buzz and I even thought it might make it to the big screen here on the peninsula. No such luck. As so often happens, movies without significant stars or significant explosions, you either see them on Netflix or not at all. That’s the thing, though.
“Widows” is a drama, but it definitely has action, and as far as stars, it features Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Collin Farrell, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson. Not too shabby. Still, McQueen is a noted art house director and it must be hard to make that transition to the mainstream, no matter how conventional your movie.
“Widows” opens with a heist gone wrong. Led by Neeson and featuring a cameo appearance by “The Punisher’s” own Jon Bernthal, a crack heist crew finds themselves the victims of a double-cross. It’s no spoiler to reveal that the entire gang is wiped out in a hail of bullets and explosions in the first few minutes of the movie. This leaves a group of unacquainted women, now widows, with a debt to a shady politician, whose head enforcer is played by a scary Daniel Kaluuya. The only real option in Veronica’s (Viola Davis) mind is for the women to continue what their husbands had started. And so, a new crew is born.
On the surface, this movie sounds like it could easily go south, turning into a dumb action movie with only surface-level characterizations — yet another “gender bending” plot device that leans so heavily on its central gimmick at the expense of an actual story.
McQueen’s film, co-written by “Gone Girl” writer Gillian Flynn works so well because of the strength of its performers. The filmmakers do a great job of making no one character completely good or bad. Even Kaluuya’s brutal killer is shown listening to language tapes in his car. It’s tiny details that round out these characters.
Davis, as the star, carries much of the weight, and does so ably, but that shouldn’t discount nuanced smaller performances from Farrell, as the exhausted son of a corrupt political dynasty, and Elizabeth Debicki as Alice, the member of the gang with the least to lose but the most potential. She’s a great character and Debicki, who’s been stealing scenes in films as varied as “The Great Gatsby” and “Guardians of the Galaxy 2,” has a bright future ahead of her.
I could see that some might find this film slow, but I found it refreshing. It was reminiscent of a time when films took their time getting to the action — time to build atmosphere, tension and character development. This film was described as a female “Heat.”
That does a disservice to “Widows,” which is certainly more than just the “girl version” of a movie, but the comparison isn’t too far off. Michael Mann’s bombastic classic is a much larger, much more energetic film, but it has plenty of quiet moments that remind me of “Widows.”
It’s also nice to see a movie for adults that’s not obscene, or grotesque, but simply made for a more mature audience. “Widows” is a success on just about every front and is well worth the time to seek it out. Grade: A
“Widows” is rated R for language, violence and some sexual content/nudity.
• By CHRIS JENNESS