Director: Steve McQueen
Screenwriters: Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn, based on the eponymous TV series by Lynda La Plante.
Brian Tyree Henry
Runtime: 129 mins.
Australian release date: 22 November 2018
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on 8 November 2018.
British director Steve McQueen has chosen to remake Lynda LaPlante’s 1983 television drama series Widows as his fourth feature film, after Hunger (2008), Shame (2011) and 12 Years A Slave (2013). It may seem like a surprising choice but McQueen says, “I remember exactly where I was at thirteen years old when I first viewed [the] series. The show immediately transported me into a criminal world where the most vulnerable and overlooked people were women. These women were deemed incapable of anything other than being judged by their appearances, yet they took on challenges against their stereotype and transformed themselves into more than capable forces, determined to take their destinies into their own hands. At that stage in my life, I felt a strong parallel to these women as I too experienced being looked at under a similar gaze [being a person of colour]. Their adversaries considered the widows as people who couldn’t achieve anything, and they did. It had a profound effect on me.” Or, to put it more succinctly, as Viola Davis’ character Veronica does in Widows, “No-one thinks we’ve got the balls to pull this off!”
Changing the location from London in the ‘80s to current-day Chicago enabled McQueen and co-scriptwriter Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) to broaden the story and raise issues of politics and religion, sexism and sexual abuse, class and race in contemporary USA “and revert it like a telescope into the global.” - McQueen again. At the outset of the film, four armed robbers are horribly burnt to death, and the loot destroyed, in a fierce explosion after a heist goes badly awry. When the owner of the stolen funds, crime boss and budding politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), and his vile brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya), demand the return of the money, Veronica (Davis) decides that the widows have no choice but to commit their husbands’ next planned job. As the wife of the gang leader Harry (Liam Neeson), she has possession of the journal in which he meticulously plotted all his robberies, and she and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), an abused wife, and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), whose husband gambled away their assets, plan to pull off the break-in. Needing a getaway driver, Veronica passes over the fourth widow, Amanda (Carrie Coon), because she has a newborn baby, and conscripts Belle (Cynthia Erivo), a hairdresser and babysitter to Linda’s kids. Adding to the tension is the fact that the Mannings have only given the women a limited amount of time to pay them back, before they come to take their pound of flesh.
There are many outstanding performances in this drama. Davis is exceptional in a large role. She’s on screen for much of the film’s running time and has to run the full gamut of emotions from love to hate and pretty much everything in between. Debicki, too, is fabulous as a woman who lacks confidence in anything except her appearance. Jacki Weaver has a small part as her Polish mum, Agnieska, and she scarily channels the frightening mother from Animal Kingdom. Kaluuya is positively repellent as his brother’s enforcer, and Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell are excellent as a father-and-son slimy pair of crooked politicians.
Widows is not your average, feel-good, run-of-the-mill female heist movie; Ocean’s Eight this ain’t! There’s no thumping soundtrack or daring escapes (although there is a car-chase). In fact, the tone of the film is quite downbeat because, after all, these women are grieving, especially Veronica for Harry, and Hans Zimmer’s score reflects this mood and is quite morose. McQueen’s and Flynn’s screenplay manages to take a few swipes at life in the USA under the current President and includes reflections on Black Lives Matter, gross consumerism and political and police corruption. As a preacher proclaims in the film, “Ignorance is the new excellence.” McQueen has said of Widows, “…this is all about corruption and power - and how people are taking power away from us.” As you’d expect from this Oscar-winning director, there’s a lot of meat on the bones of this nominally escapist movie.