Steve McQueen has become a director that made the loudest statements in his quietest moments, lingering on a minute to make sure that you look away before the camera does. Widows certainly has many occasions that fit that criterion but in a tangled film of lawlessness and legacies, never have his earlier projects had a cast as robust as this one, every player involved finding a voice and speaking volumes in their own way.
Based on the TV series of the same name, McQueen picks up the U.K. based story from Lynda La Plante and with the help of Gillian Flynn relocates to Chicago. Opening with a heist gone wrong and its assailants left burnt to a crisp in the getaway van, the wives of these dearly departed ne’er-do-well’s are left to pick up the pieces, for better or worse. Still struggling with her loss is Veronica (Viola Davis) whose husband (Liam Neeson) was the head of the operation and the man responsible for pinching a hefty sum from shady electoral candidate Jamal Manning (Atlantis’ Brian Tyree Henry). Not too pleased about the whole thing, he tasks Veronica with the job of returning it by any means necessary, leading her to rope in the other women bound by the deed they had no part in, but will have no choice but to embark upon one of their own.
McQueen’s previous efforts have conjured up a couple of stellar performances in the past, but Widows has them coming out every single corrupted corner of Chicago. To absolutely no surprise, Viola Davis delivers in spades as the bereaved brains of the outfit, clinging to bittersweet memories of her husband only to wake up to the cold side of a bed is a gut punch the director lands every chance he has, with the help of well-used Neeson as the recently departed. Crying isn’t on the job list though, as she is quick to highlight while putting her plan into motion and propelling every player involved upwards to her level which many surprisingly reach.
For every scene-stealing moment that Davis has, there’s a battle between an array of equally talented co-stars that have a go at grabbing it back for themselves. Elizabeth Debicki as Alice, another widow and escapee of an abusive relationship, is magnetic. Learning from her new-found partner in crime and hatching schemes on her own is the most satisfying arc of the film. Michelle Rodriguez also makes an impression, going against her usual badass routine and instead turns in as one of the most level-headed thieves among the group as the mother of two that wants to set things right.
The real showstopper though isn’t even among the group of leading ladies, but the man with his sights on their winnings. Daniel Kaluuya as Jamal’s second-in-command Jatemme is quite possibly one of the best performances of the year. Taking what little screen time he has and providing a presence that haunts the film, it’s incredible that the guy you feared for in Get Out is the same one you’re terrified of when he appears. Two standout scenes see him freezing the atmosphere as he gets up in the face of a goon that failed him on a basketball court, or an interrogation at a bowling alley that’ll make you squirm. Who’d have thought Posh Kenneth had it in him?
More to the point, who thought any of them did, McQueen especially. Though we’ve been given commendable efforts in the past, Widows feels like his most accessible, littered with individuals that feel solid in a story that has its message on love, loss, and the current climate of America in all its tumultuous territories. It doesn’t make as much of a statement as his previous works, but like every great heist film, it’s another part of the plan working underneath before clicking perfectly into place.