Widows (2018)

A fresh approach towards the 'Heist' genre, with a focus on complex female characters and a social and political subtext that elevates it above a typical heist thriller.

11/1/20235 min read

Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Erivo in 'Widows'
Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Erivo in 'Widows'

English, 113 mins, 2018

Director: Steve McQueen

Cast: Liam Neeson, Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Bryan Tyree Henry, Cynthia Erivo

Awards: Nominated for Best Actress (Viola Davis), BAFTA Awards, 2019; Won Best Actress Award, Black Film Critics Circle, 2018; Nominations for Best Editing, Best Motion Picture, Best Original Score & Best Lead actress, Satellite Awards, 2019; Best Supporting Actor and Actress, Best Screenwriter, Best British/Irish Actor (Daniel Kaluuya), London Critics Circle Film Awards, 2019

The film starts with a bang- Harry Rowlings (Liam Neeson) and his crew is in a botched up robbery. Police is hot on heals, chasing the crew’s van with shots being fired. They manage to evade police chase and enter a warehouse and close the shutter. They change the vehicle quickly and open the shutter, but to their misfortune, police has the welcome party ready. Police opens fire and a loud explosion turns the vehicle into a fireball engulfing all the robbers and killing them. They leave behind charred remains and – their widows. The film is based on a 1983 British TV series by the same name aired on ITV network.

Veronica (Viola Davis), Harry’s grieving wife is visited by Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry) who tells her that Harry and his crew had stolen $2 million from him which was his campaign money for Alderman’s election for the 18th ward in Chicago. He gives her one month to arrange the money for him by liquidating the big luxurious house. Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Carlos’s widow, a mother of two kids, loses her garments’ store as Carlos, who was also one in the crew, lost the money in gambling and has pile of debt, so debtors take away the goods. Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Florek’s widow, is younger and broke. Her mother coaxes her to start sugaring. The three widows are desperate for money. There is fourth one too, Amanda (Carrie Coon), Jimmy’s widow, but she seems reasonably well off and has a four month old baby.

Bash (Garret Dillahunt), Harry’s loyal chauffeur, hands over a key to Veronica which Harry had instructed him to give it to her in an unlikely event of Harry’s death. The key is for a safety deposit box which contains Harry’s diary. The diary contains a floor plan and some pictures of an aged man having sex with a young girl along with detailed notes written on the pages. Apparently, it is the plan of robbing $5 Million from Mulligans. Who are Mulligans? Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) is the candidate fighting election against Jamal Manning. He is the son of Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall) who had held Alderman’s position of the 18th ward for past many years. Even though under same roof, Jack and Tom don’t see eye to eye over any issue with each other. Unknown to Veronica, Jamal’s brother (Daniel Kaluuya) is trailing her and watching her every move.

Pushed to the corner, Veronica thinks of planning to steal $ 5million from Mulligans but she needs extra hands, so she asks Bash to give her the list of other widows. Soon, Veronica, Alice and Linda are in a spa where she proposes her audacious plan of robbing $ 5 million. The ladies are apprehensive but are aware of their impossible situation and hence go along. They meet, next day, in the same warehouse where their husbands died. Veronica issues instructions- Alice will arrange for guns and transport van; Linda will find out about the floor plan found in the diary.

Jamal’s brother along with his goons visit Bash’s house to find out about the diary and kill him. Bash was supposed to be their driver but with his death now, they need a driver. Linda’s Baby sitter Belle (Cynthia Erivo) is a part time baby sitter and full time hairdresser at a salon. She fills in for Bash and the crew seems complete. Alice is able to get guns and a van but Linda is stuck with blueprint. Here, Alice’s sugar daddy, who works with builders, comes in handy as he tells the location of strong room in the mansion. Mulligan’s mansion also serves as their HQ for Jack’s campaign staff.

Readers, not wanting to read spoilers should stop here. Veronica visits Amanda trying to know where she stands and discovers Harry’s small flask on the table. Her dog, whom she carries everywhere, barks and paws the closet door agitatedly making Veronica suspicious about Harry. She leaves without seeking explanation from Amanda. After Veronica leaves, Amanda opens closet door to reveal Harry sitting inside. Apparently, Harry escaped with cash from the warehouse by double crossing his crew and is alive and helping Jack win election against Jamal Manning.

Veronica pays a visit to Jack on the pretext of seeking his help to stave off Jamal Manning and scans the security and arrangement inside while Belle surveys the premises from outside. One link remains-keycodes of safe! Veronica discovers that nude pictures found in Harry’s notebook were of the security company’s chief. She blackmails him to get those. Legwork complete, they decide the D-day as the day of the debate when Jack and his staff will be off premises.

In the stunning climactic sequence, there are a lot of surprises and twists which I am not reveling here. The film has a taut screenplay and keeps viewer on the edge. Widows are superb in performance lead by Viola Davis who received lot nominations for best female lead actress. Steve McQueen delivers a perfect dark thriller with the most unlikely heroes or shall we say, heroines. In "Widows," Steve McQueen skillfully weaves a web of deceit, betrayal, and resilience, all set against the backdrop of a heist. It's a must watch for all cine buffs.

About the director, Steve McQueen

Born in October, 1969 in London, Steve McQueen’s mother is from Grenada and father from Trinidad and Tobago. Both parents migrated to England and raised their kids in London. Steve went to school in West London and studied Art and Design at Chelsea College of Arts and later studied ‘Fine Art’ at Goldsmith College, University of London where he got interested in cinema. Then he went on to study at Tisch School of Arts, New York University, USA but left it mid-way as he was not satisfied with their methods of teaching.

McQueen’s earlier exploits were more a work of art in museums than the pure films where his films or images were projected on more than one wall as part of art installation. His work had great influence of Okwui Enwerazor, Nigerian art curator, critic, poet and writer who lived in New York and had met Steve McQueen in 1995 at Institute of Contemporary Arts, London who eventually became his close friend and mentor.

He made his first short film, ‘Bear’ in 1993, which was presented at Royal College of Arts in London. Next one, ‘Five Easy Pieces’ came in 1995. In 1998, he created an artwork was called ‘Drumroll’ which he shot with three cameras- one on either sides and third one mounted on an oil drum which he rolled on the streets of Manhattan. These three films were then projected on three adjacent walls. He made number of short films and films which were part of various art exhibits.

His feature film debut came quite late with the film, ‘Hunger’ in 2008 which was based on Irish hunger strike in 1981. The film was premiered in Cannes Film Festival, 2008 and he won Camera d’Or (First feature of the director) award, incidentally becoming first British Citizen to win this award. In 2013, he made ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ based on an autobiography by Solomon Northup which tells the story of a black man kidnapped in year 1841 and sold into slavery for twelve years to work in plantations in the state of Louisiana. Steve won Academy award for Best Picture in 2014, becoming first Black director of a ‘Best Picture Academy Award’.

‘Widows’ is his fourth feature film and as written above, is based on a TV series aired in 1983. His work spans across a wide art landscape from short films to art installations using video footage and exhibits, from documentaries to television series and feature films which are a class in itself. For his services in the field of visual arts, Steve McQueen was appointed ‘Commander of the Order of British Empire’ (CBE) in 2011.