“We have three days to look and move like a team of men. The best thing we have going for us is being who we are. Because nobody thinks we have the balls to pull this off,” Viola Davis says in a pep talk to her widowed heist mates. That speech encapsulates so much about what Widows does well. It’s a keyed-up thriller with a diverse spirit of inclusion. This is one of the films that create genuine excitement for writing about the medium. There is a pressing energy and necessity to every shot, with Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, 2013) expertly helming the direction. Widows pulsates and pounds with the pent-up energy of a cultural moment, significant and ingeniously constructed in every sense of those words.
The crew is comprised of great characters, all contributing their best. Viola Davis stars as our lead – whose husband and his own crew have just died in a heist gone wrong. The film opens with their tender embrace, kissing on a bed in a room diluted by its pure whiteness. That is a signature theme: do not trust anything that is too white in this film, it cannot be up to very much good. One of her late husband’s debtors come to collect payment, which spins her life into disarray. Finding a notebook of her husband’s future heist blueprints, she lays out a simple plan: she’ll contact the other widows and hatch their own version of the heist, paying off the two million owed, and leaving with a million a piece for their effort.
Elizabeth Debicki plays a woman left with only an abusive mother holding the aged views of her homeland, Poland, urging her to start sleeping around to fulfill her debts and make some money independent of a man. Michelle Rodriguez is absolutely brilliant, cast totally against-type as a woman not totally sure of her involvement who has to be coaxed into being the radical badass we all understand she is from her previous work. Cynthia Erivo plays their driver, a not entirely reluctant last-minute addition to the team – and does she need a gun for the job? No, she carries her own, she was already living within this game. The cast extends with such incredible depth, it’s truly a remarkable statement on what is possible with careful and well-considered casting, to tell a powerful and modern story. Also worthy of note, the excellent dog from this year’s Game Night also stars, and is honestly a scene stealer.
It’s all set against the backdrop of modern Chicago, embroiled in political turmoil. White politicians are at work trying to gain the support of the inner-city, all talking points and no action. One of them winds up being the target of the next heist. In this sense, the film ends up being a greatly moving sociopolitical thriller, with every point withholding an interest in social upheaval. These themes combine wonderfully with the great cast to pull everything together into a tightly wound caper that requires your fullest attention.
Equally up for the challenge is composer Hans Zimmer. He’s created a shifting soundtrack that starts comfortably and crescendos radically. He has put in remarkable work in matching his score to the tone. McQueen’s maverick direction compliments Zimmer perfectly. Every sequence is framed with value and pointed direction. There is not a scene left without careful choreography and the tense backing sound, creating audiovisual mastery.
There is a point where Widows careens wildly in interesting directions. Whenever its movement sprawls out, it never loses placement or context for its sequences. The best thing you could say about Joe Walker’s editing is that it’s so perfect and immaculate, you’ll never realize it’s there. When the twists come, characters move and grow, everything is handled to satisfying effect. This is also a great credit to co-writer Gillian Flynn, famed author of consistently filmic stories (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects). This story functions on equal par to her novels, elevated by the incredible talent that surrounds the project. Based off the 1983 TV series of the same name, McQueen elevates the source material beyond any concerns we may have carried for the structural translation. Everything works and it’s stunning to watch.
Widows is the must-see thriller of the year. It’s the kind of film where you leave the theater buzzing, more fulfilled than when you came in, ready to shout your opinion to anyone who will listen. Our screening began precariously, with a baby crying through the opening dialogues as we gave the parents death glares due to their bad decision making and then improved radically when they were escorted out the second someone got a bullet through the head. Go see Widows right now – it’s a perfectly righteous gut-punch of a thriller we will not soon forget.