- Director Steve McQueen’s thrilling heist delivers a smart crime drama.
- The glue to the movie is Davis’ Veronica character. Don’t be surprised if this garners her another Oscar nomination.
It’s hard to make a heist movie these days that doesn’t feel like the countless others we’ve had thrown at us going as far back as the days of the film noir.
But director Steve McQueen (“12 Years A Slave”) has caught lightning in a bottle with “Widows” (opening in theatres Friday).
Based on the British TV series of the same name from the mid-1980s, we follow a group of women who are married or have relationships with a team of thieves. After the men are all killed in a job, the woman decide to take on the next one they were to do to help support themselves.
But seeing this is a McQueen movie, there’s a lot more between the lines.
Filled with issues of race, dirty politics, and double-crossing, it’s a smart crime drama that the likes of Michael Mann or David Mamet have done in the past. And McQueen has surrounded himself with a cast that can pull off clearing that high bar.
Front and center is Viola Davis, who plays Veronica, the wife of the crew’s leader, Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson). The death of her man has left her heartbroken and broke. But when she is given a key to a safe deposit box that Harry has left behind for her, everything changes.
Inside, she finds Harry’s notebook that reveals the plans for what would have been his crew’s next job. Unsure what to do, she finds motivation in a visit from gangster-turned politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who informs Veronica that Harry stole money from him on his final job. Jamal says Veronica has one month to pay him back.
So she decides to do Harry’s job and enlists the widows of Harry’s crew (Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki) to do it with her.
As in previous McQueen movies, the beautiful photography of DP Sean Bobbitt shines through, and even though it’s a studio movie (released by Fox), McQueen is able to throw in little creative elements that only he can.
In a single-shot car ride, politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) gets in his town car after a speech in an underdeveloped part of Chicago. While driving back to his home, he has a heated conversation with his aid about wanting to quit politics.
But McQueen mounts the camera on the hood of the car and only shows half of the car in the frame. We never see inside the car, only hear their voices. This allows the audience to watch the surroundings on the drive go from ghetto to mansions in the span of a few minutes.
The script is perfectly crafted with few cliches by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl,” “Sharp Objects”), but it’s the incredible casting that makes this movie so great.
Davis plays Veronica tough-as-nails. She’s hard on the other woman to get the job done, but inside she’s as scared as the rest of them.
Rodriguez is perfect for this kind of movie, giving her usual tough persona performance, and Debicki is impressive as Alice, who after going through an abusive relationship wit her boyfriend Florek (Jon Bernthal) and left with nothing after his death, has to grow up fast when she agrees to take on the job. Her evolution in the movie is one of the most fascinating to watch.
Robert Duvall, Carrie Coon, and Daniel Kaluuya as Jamal’s deadly enforcer brother, round out the cast.
But the glue to the movie is Davis’ Veronica character. Don’t be surprised if this garners her another Oscar nomination.
Davis plays Veronica as a woman who is in pain but suddenly has found that she can finally be independent in the world. Though it may be a heist she’s planning, she does it with the tenacity and persistence of a CEO running a company.
She doesn’t want us to feel sorry for Veronica – Davis makes us see that this woman is more than just arm candy to a criminal.
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