Director Steve McQueen makes a solid return to the silver screen with the heist thriller Widows, five years after his last effort, 12 Years a Slave, took home the Oscar for Best Picture.
Based on a 1983 British TV mini-series by the same name, Widows starts with four Chicago criminals (led by Liam Neeson) killed in a $2 million heist. Neeson’s wife Veronica (Viola Davis) is threatened by Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), the criminal her husband robbed. Manning has designs on a more genteel face to his criminal enterprises, though, and is running for alderman against the scion (Colin Farrell) of a family of politicians. Manning gives Veronica a month to return his $2 million in exchange for her life.
Veronica forms an uneasy alliance with the widows (Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez) of two of the other criminals. Their goal is to carry out the plans Neeson drew up for what was to be his next robbery. They do this while being stalked by Manning’s brother and chief enforcer (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya).
As you’ve probably guessed by now, there are a lot of plot threads in Widows. But McQueen, who co-wrote the script with novelist Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects), keeps things pretty easy to follow. The stakes are clearly established, the dialogue’s sharp, and there are a number of memorable supporting characters (the above summary did not even mention Robert Duvall as Farrell’s racist father). There is a twist about two thirds of the way through that is genuinely surprising, but still makes sense when you think about it (a relative rarity in film). The main weakness is that the finale feels a little too pat and convenient for a world as grim and cynical as the one in Widows.
McQueen’s visual skill as a director is still evident as well. There is an excellent shot where Farrell’s character leaves after a stump speech in a poor, run-down neighborhood on the South Side, and the camera follows his car from the slum to the ritzy neighborhood he calls home. It’s a great visual representation of the divide between Chicago’s haves and have-nots without underlining the point too much.