*”Widows” is the rare Hollywood production that subverts your expectations in a positive way – while still leaving you feeling slightly unsatisfied when it ends.
The premise is refreshing. Turning the “men avenging a falling female loved one” on its head, “Widows” has its protagonists losing the men in their lived to a botched robbery and then trying to survive and thrive.
However, in the hands of director Steve McQueen, don’t expect a typical action/revenge picture. If anything, the film is a slow burn, with McQueen prioritizing putting the meat of characterization onto his characters’ bones rather than guns in their hands.
In short, don’t expect a female “Expendables” movie going into “Widows”.
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As the story unfolds, we see Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) a Chicago teacher’s union delegate and her husband Harry (Liam Neeson), a renowned bank robber with connections to politicians, in bed together. Though far from groundbreaking in 2018, such interracial scenes are still relatively rare. But McQueen takes you out of the moment by having Davis and Neeson using their tongues like lizards, which takes any romance, passion or even lust out of the scene.
Therein lies the main problem with “Widows”: McQueen and co-screenwriter Gilllian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) are so busy trying to give us curves, hey forget an occasional straight fastball can be just as effective.
That said, there is a lot to like here. Michelle Rodriguez actually gets a chance to act as Linda Perelli, one of the widows who was a clothing store owner before her husband’s demise. Elizabeth Debicki portrays Alice Gunner, who after losing her abusive husband, ponders life as an escort. There are many layers to Gunner’s character, as we see her as meek, to viewing why she accepted such harsh treatment from her husband when we see her mother (Jacki Weaver), who physically assaults her daughter and encourages her to become a high-priced hooker. Which has Alice wondering if love truly exists or if everything in life is “a transaction”.
Which brings us to Davis, who has found a role far superior to others she has portrayed recently in films like “Suicide Squad”. As the widow of the gang’s leader, Davis finds herself threatened by Jamal Manning, a crime boss and politician to whom she finds out the widows are indebted to the tune of $2 million. As she helps put a plan together to get enough money to pay the debt and set her and her crew up for the rest of their lives, the tension builds.
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Brian Tyree Henry is excellent as Jamal Manning, who at 38, no longer wants to deal with “the life” and instead wants to immerse himself in the “honest stealing” and power that comes with elected office. .Likewise, Daniel Kaluuya gives a chilling turn as Jatemme Manning, Jamal’s brother and mob enforcer, whose performance has echoes of Wesley Snipes’ iconic Nini Brown in “New Jack City”.
Colin Farell also is given a role that plays to his strengths as Jack Mulligan, Jamal’s opponent and a politician who finds himself mixed up in the widows’ plans. We also find he alternates between embracing his family’s political legacy – as embodied by his father Tom (Robert Duvall) – and absolutely despising it, wondering what he is really accomplishing and how he is different from the thieves and whores he rails against.
There are other characters and developments, but there are many big, wicked curves in this film and I don’t want to spoil any of them.
Suffice to say that the film flirts with greatness, but never quite reaches it, never truly goes for it, never quite attains the peak of its promise. It deals with important issues, but what is both the film’s strength and weakness is that they are not always dealt with in a way that fits with the overall narrative.
As a heist film, it is far more intense, with more real stakes than “Ocean’s 8” – that’s for sure
A lot of this had to do with Davis, who is not quite convincing as a lover or leader. Some also has to do with the script, which could have played it straight and had the energy crackle a bit more.
Still, “Widows” is a memorable, engrossing film that reminds you of Hollywood’s ability to surprise. It constantly subverts your expectations in a good way.
Here’s hoping if the film gets a deserved sequel, they up the action just a little bit, though.