Hey there, Roni here!
You may well wonder why WIDOWS is being promoted as highbrow Oscar bait by Academy Award Winner ™ Steve McQueen, instead of as the movie we all want to see: a female-led heist movie starring Viola Davis. Sadly, I’ve discovered the reason why: because the best parts of the female-led heist are in the trailer.
After a police shootout leaves a group of Chicago thieves dead, their widows – Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda’s babysitter, Belle (Cynthia Erevo) – are left holding the bag on a debt to a local crime kingpin. They must save themselves by banding together and pulling off the heist that Veronica’s husband was planning.
Sounds like a great concept, right? You’re picturing these grieving women banding together, overcoming their differences, overcoming their grief, rising to the occasion and becoming strong enough and badass enough to steal five million dollars (okay, five million dollars split four ways is… not the biggest heist haul in the history of heist hauls, but for women who are taking the bus to their babysitting jobs as a second gig… sure, it sounds good). Except… that’s not what happens.
What happens instead is we veer off sideways into a story about corrupt Chicago politicians, some brutal gangland violence, and the financial difficulties of women who are struggling to get by. Then there’s a twist that I won’t spoil (but that won’t be 100% surprising if you’ve ever seen another Gillian Flynn movie, or even read the description of the 1980’s British TV show this movie is, apparently, based on.) For a movie that’s almost two and a half hours long, the planning and execution of the heist occupies surprisingly little screen time. Most of the suspense, violence, and action involves – surprise – the guys.
That’s not to say that WIDOWS is without its charms. Viola Davis, of course, you could watch all day. She’s amazing. Michelle Rodriguez is great, too (although this isn’t much of an action role for her, either). Cynthia Erevo is a revelation, and Elizabeth Debicki is totally compelling. Tonally, the movie manages to take the women seriously, which I guess is progress. I was drawn into the political subplot, the gangland drama, and especially, the financial struggles of the women. The portrayal of the financial reality of losing a life partner was very real. We get to see a woman leaving her kids to go babysit somebody else’s kids for $12 an hour, which is unusual in a Hollywood movie. I expected to see more of the emotional reality of grief here, which might have been too much to ask, really. But there’s more focus on who the widows are banging, weeks or months after losing their husbands, than there is on the shock of their loss, or the struggle to overcome it.
Steve McQueen is a great, ambitious filmmaker, and he succeeds in bringing some social relevance to his subject, which is rare in American filmmaking. But I feel like, instead of elevating the heist concept to a new level, the actual heist gets lost in the plot. WIDOWS veers all over the place, never fully delivering on the promise of its concept. I really wanted to see these women have a character arc, become badasses, and have an action movie of their own. Unfortunately, this isn’t it.