'Widows' Review: Viola Davis Leads An Extraordinary Cast In Steve McQueen's Heist Thriller

Powerful women lead the way in this sensational and auspicious caper.

Widows Cover

Widows starts with a fierce introduction. Smash cutting love with violence, director Steve McQueen sets up the physical and emotional battle to come. Returning with a new motion picture five years after his Academy Award-winning 12 Years A Slave, McQueen has set his sights on a heist caper, with strong females at the center. Collaborating with Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, McQueen has made a righteous feature, filled with twists and turns that leave audiences gasping. It doesn’t hurt that Widows has the best ensemble cast this year.

The film is based on an unlikely source, a short-lived British television drama that aired in the 80s from creator/author Lynda La Plante, and the plot follows three widows who must take over their husbands’ crime business or face the consequences from the men whose money was stolen. Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) and his crew have perished during a robbery. Now, Veronica Rawlins (Viola Davis), Linda Perelli (Michelle Rodriguez), and Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki) must work together or have hell to pay.

This year has already seen another all-female heist movie, but this year has seen nothing like Widows. Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) and Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) are in a political race to become alderman for a district in Chicago. The problem is that money was stolen from Manning by Harry Rawlins. He will need that money back if he will launch a campaign that will challenge Mulligan. Thus, Manning has his brother, Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya), act as his enforcer. Jatemme isn’t afraid to use any means necessary to get what he wants, and it is a terrifying performance from Kaluuya. He becomes the biggest problem and main obstacle for most everyone.

Veronica has no choice but to pursue the life of crime that her husband was fond of as she’ll otherwise lose everything she owns and be out on the street, but the prospect is appropriately difficult. The other women have similar issues that trouble them. Linda thought she had a clothing store to fall back on when her husband passed away, but his gambling problems meant that he never owned the place. With two children to care for and no other means of making money, she has to join Veronica on this heist. Alice is encouraged to find other means of making money from her mother (Jacki Weaver). This means becoming an escort for high-powered business men, but selling her body is understandably unappealing so she’s also on board with the mission.

Albeit a heist film, Widows has the prestige and signature of a high quality drama. McQueen and Flynn add enough twists to keep viewers on their toes, but there is also considerable room afforded to experimentation and artistry. In a cast that features so many terrific actors it is difficult to pick standouts, but Davis, Debicki, and Kaluuya come across as the most memorable. Davis has a role here that shines a light on her immense talent, Debicki fights against expectations, and Kaluuya puts on a show in a menacing performance reminiscent of Javier Bardem’s turn in No Country for Old Men as a stone-cold killer who finds pleasure in the death of his targets.

Widows defies expectations as a heist feature and adds heft and emotion to the proceedings. By mining an old British drama, McQueen has made a film that has its pulse on an unique period in history while still delivering a highly satisfying revenge caper. The cast is phenomenal, the story is engaging, and McQueen shows he can make a big studio picture in a way that few other directors even attempt. These Widows are not messing around.

News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.