Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo
Director: Steve McQueen
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: From Academy Award (R)-winning director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) and co-writer and bestselling author Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) comes a blistering, modern-day thriller set against the backdrop of crime, passion and corruption. “Widows” is the story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica (Oscar (R) winner Viola Davis), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms. “Widows” also stars Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Daniel Kaluuya, Lukas Haas and Brian Tyree Henry.
Widows is the type of movie where the level of talent involved makes it almost impossible for it to be a bad film. With Steve McQueen at the helm, Gillian Flynn in the writer’s room, and Viola Davis leading an incredibly talented ensemble cast, it would take something truly incredible for this movie to be a dud. Fortunately for us, this was not the case and all of these elite individuals have another fantastic film on their hands. Powered by a tight script, superb performances from most of the cast, and another beautiful score from Hans Zimmer, Widows shows us that talent supersedes genre and these types of performers can excel in any movie they choose to work on.
The film follows three widows; Veronica (Davis), Linda (Rodriguez), and Alice (Debicki), whose husbands were killed in a botched bank robbery. When Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry) and Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya), the two brothers that their husbands robbed, demand repayment for their husband’s actions, the three women must team up to carry out their husband’s next plan and repay the brothers before the brothers kill them. The thing that makes this film as special as it is starts with the performances from everyone. No matter how long someone is on-screen, they make the most of their time as every scene is either tense, exciting, or dramatic to the point where you are always on the edge of your seat. Davis in the lead role is a master class actress who commands every scene she is in regardless of who she shares the screen with. Whether it is the fear of her situation, the despair of losing her husband, or the anxiety of her plan going wrong, Davis shows us why she has been in this industry for so long and why she will continue to be a dominant force for the indefinite future. Outside of the main cast, Kaluuya, Henry, and Colin Farrell all show us how to make the most of a supporting role. As the hitman of the two brothers, Kaluuya gave us one of the most chilling performances in recent memory. The way he just casually goes about his violent behavior without a care in the world is evidence of just how malicious this character can be and these emotions would not be delivered without Kaluuya’s performance in the role. While the two serve as brothers, Henry is an excellent foil for Kaluuya’s character and shows us the two sides of criminal life. While Jatemme thrives in his role as the enforcer, Jamal wants more for himself and his family and is using this opportunity to escape this life and move to a new one. While both have a personal pension for violence, Jamal takes a big picture look at things while Jatemme is happy with the life he lives, and the chemistry between these two brothers would not have been possible without the strong, believable performances from Kaluuya and Henry. Finally, Colin Farrell’s character shows us the life that Jamal wants to live but that he has not been able to. One of the most powerful scenes in the movie is after a rally where Farrell’s character Jack has shown the predominantly black community what he and his family have done for minority business owners. As Jack is driving away, he goes on a racist tirade that illustrates how he really feels about the people voting for him. What is interesting about this scene is that it is complemented by the scenery getting progressively nicer as they go further away from the rally spot. While Farrell is incredible in the rest of his scenes, his performance here truly showcases the interrelationship between racism and classism and how they directly relate to one another. This would not have been possible without Farrell’s performance and the accompanying performance by Robert Duvall as Jack’s father which shows us that this issues stems multiple generations.
Outside of the acting, the two things that stand out about this movie are the script and score. This is a tight story that constantly keeps you on enticed and wanting a resolution to this group’s problems. While I can see people having an issue with the lack of breathing room, I would argue that Alice’s subplot provides the necessary cushion between the main plot and all of the drama associated with it. I did not particularly care for her extra storyline, but I understand why McQueen felt the need to include it. Outside of the story, the score is another smashing success from Hans Zimmer. With a movie like this that constantly keeps us busy with some sort of on-screen detail, a subtle score was the perfect choice for the action sequences. The traditional string and brass instrument choices are great for a movie like this, but instead of being this load, bombastic addition to the film, we got a quiet, helpful score that serves as a tone setter and a device to help keep us enticed. Looking back at Zimmer’s career, you expect a movie like this to have a score with load crashes and massive swells when they were needed, but this softer look at a very serious plot was an addition I was not expecting, but ultimately appreciated.
Overall, this is the type of movie where the question is not, “will it be good,” but rather, “how good will it be.” Widows shows us that if you put a bunch of talented people in one room together, you can make some film magic happen. While the pace might be a little slow for some more traditional action movie fans, the payoff is well-earned and makes you thankful that you watched. Aided by precise editing and Cynthia Erivo’s running scenes that rival Tom Cruise’s for best of the year, Widows is entertaining, exciting, and a near master class production from start to finish.
Overall Score: 8.5/10