Veronica Rawling’s (Viola Davis) life is shattered when her husband Harry (Liam Neeson) is killed robbing crime lord Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). With Jamal’s millions burnt in the fleeing robbers’ van, he demands that the widows pay him back or face violent retribution.
...in ‘Widows’ Steve McQueen has made “appointment TV” into “appointment cinema”
For his latest film, Director Steve McQueen has gone back in time. Impressed as a child by Lynda La Plante’s ground-breaking TV series, he’s brought it into the light with a stellar cast and ‘Gone Girl’s’ gifted writer, Gillian Flynn. Where La Plante’s series was “appointment TV”, and you organised your evenings around each episode, in ‘Widows’ Steve McQueen has made “appointment TV” into “appointment cinema”.
In a dramatic antidote to the vacuous ‘Ocean’s 8’ where the girls were just cyphers for the boys, McQueen’s widows are living, breathing characters who drag their flaws along with their virtues. Cast as Veronica, the monied widow to Liam Neeson’s Harry, Viola Davis delivers everything you’d expect from her and more. In a performance that bristles with suppressed rage as much as it does determination, she palpably inhabits her character, none more so than in her spiky exchanges with the equally excellent Cynthia Erivo. Building from her recent run of great performances from such films as Bladerunner 2049, Elizabeth Debicki deftly channels her Alice the victim into Alice the great. Rounding out the quartet, Michelle Rodriguez also gets to play down and dirty and show a greater range than her usual franchise fare. However lurking in the background is a scene-stealing performance by Daniel Kaluuya as thug brother to wronged crime lord Jamal Manning. Gone is the tearful victim of ‘Get Out’ only to be replaced with the casual psychopath that is Jatemme Manning. Indifferent and ruthless, his is the performance that puts real steel in Brian Tyree Henry’s kingpin threat.
As a film ‘Widows’ doesn’t feel overly dense and yet Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn have given it multiple layers where every consequence is real and graphic. By focussing on what makes an audience lean in and then exhale with a shaky relief, ‘Widows’ is a concertina thriller that breezes with quality from its very opening shot. From the first frame, you know you are watching a Steve McQueen film and there will no punches pulled in the ones that will be thrown at you in the next two hours.
Ultimately as a quality film from the still-emerging talent that is Steve McQueen, ‘Widows’ is fantastic thriller and an excellent companion to his other films. Be clear before you buy that ticket. There are no passengers on this ride and no prisoners will be taken in what is a thrilling depiction of four women’s desperation and how far they’ll go to set things right.