Widows (2018): An Underrated and Powerful Cinematic Masterpiece
In 2014, Director Steve McQueen took home the academy award for best picture in 12 Years a Slave, which is still culturally relevant to this date. It made everyone wonder which film he would make next. Which led to the release of the highly anticipated Widows, which also just so happened to be written by Gone Girl writer, Gillian Flynn.
Veronica Rawlings (played by Viola Davis) is a widow of recently deceased bank robber Harry Rawlings (played by Liam Neeson). He stole $2 million from street hustler and aspiring politician Jamal Manning (played by Brian Tyree Henry) before passing away. After approaching Veronica on collecting the massive debt, she calls the widows of Harry’s deceased crew to help pay off the debt by pulling off Harry’s next planned heist on corrupt political figures Tom Mulligan (played by Robert Duvall) and Jack Mulligan (played by Colin Farrell).
Let’s start off with the performances. My god were there many memorable performances! Viola Davis leading the charge with her cold and vulnerable performance as a grieving widow backed into a corner. Playing tough in front of her fellow widows, almost acting like her husband and a terrified emotional wreck in front of Jamal when confronted about her husband's debt. Speaking of Jamal, Brian Tyree Henry gives his most dramatic performance to date, having played mostly comedic characters like those in Eternals and the show Atlanta, being both aggression and emotion to what could have been a one note character. Playing his brother and enforcer is Daniel Kaluuya who downright steals the show with his terrifying and intimidating performance. This being on full display when confronting those who were supposed to be responsible for the money that was taken. Barely showing any emotion with any facial expressions, as if he feels nothing behind his cold eyes.
This was a much deeper story than I initially realized as the twists and turns kept coming. About halfway through the film, we find out that Harry faked his death and killed his crew in order to start a new life with one of his crewmates' widows which he was having an affair with. This happened mostly because of a rift between he and Veronica’s marriage which became devastatingly large after their son’s death at the hands of police in a racially charged traffic stop. Veronica’s son was black kid driving a very fancy car pulled over by white police officers, you do the math on that one. But the twists don’t stop, as the final robbery leads to the death of Tom Mulligan and in turn gives Jack Mulligan the councilman seat because of a pity vote.
There are also significant messages interwoven throughout Widows. Such as mentioned above, the profiling of African Americans and other minorities by police and the damage that can cause. But there are also messages of empowerment throughout the film, with the message being put on full display through Alice’s (played by Elizabeth Debecki) character arc. She was physically abused by her husband while also being emotionally manipulated by her mother into becoming a sugar baby per say. It’s quite heartbreaking having her character start out this way, but it’s important once she meets Veronica and begins to take control of her life. She was able to use her sugar daddy to her and the other widow’s advantage in order to get crucial information about the heist AND she even took a bullet to save the rest of her crew. She without a doubt got the best development in the entire film and was played with care by Debecki.
I also admire the violence in the film, as it is “violence with a purpose.” It plays more into the thriller and suspense aspects of the film while using minimal violence throughout. It’s used as a sort of power dynamic throughout and only used when trying to get the upper hand or establish dominance. For example, in one scene, Kaluuya’s Jatemme uses violence only after establishing how scary of a person he is. In the confrontation with the two mobsters responsible for the money being stolen, he gives them a few moments to rap and be alive before establishing said dominance with a couple point blank shots to the face.
Widows is a film that exceeds all expectations for a heist film. With a star-studded cast that gives some of their best performances ever, particularly Viola Davis and Daniel Kaluuya, it adds to the heavy somberness this film possesses. It’s themes are difficult and would come off as melodramatic in the hands of a less capable director and writer, but the team of Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn pulled it off beautifully. Along with action that truly feels real and gritty compared to many other enormous set pieces, it never fails to keep you invested. I’m just surprised a whole lot of people didn’t see it, as this is a film that will change your perspective on how we see the world.