Let’s spin a web.
Widows is a recent film by Steve McQueen (who directed the excellent 12 years a slave and written by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), so you’d think this would be a little spitfire of a film.
We follow Veronica (Viola Davis) after he husband (Liam Neeson) and his men are killed in a botched robbery. The robbers targeted a mob boss who is now running for a political position and needs the money back, so he threatens Veronica into finding a way to get the money back.
The film has a lot of wheels spinning—even that little blurb doesn’t go into all of them. Complex narratives can be fun, but something went a little wrong with this one.
What works the best is the quality of filming. Just about every scene looks fantastic. The frenetic opening with loud gunfire and car crashes all over juxtaposed with intimacy works quite well. Further, a later scene with Davis and Neeson at their son’s funeral showcases fantastic acting and directing without saying a word.
Widows frustrates me because there is so much good here that the bad sours it more than if it were just a bad film. Veronica’s son was killed (while unarmed) by a cop at a traffic stop, so I guess it makes some sense that she doesn’t want to go to the police after being threatened. Yet, this logic is inferred and not stated. A black politician, who seems to be known to be at least criminal-adjacent, would be a big catch for a cop—even if they didn’t care about the victims.
Our two politicians, Jack (Colin Farrell—who lets his accent slip a little too much here) and Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry) might have been better if flip-flopped. I think most viewers would believe cops might not investigate a white politician on the word of an African American woman who was married to a known criminal.
The set-up of the film failed to hook me, and this made every other flaw a little harder to take than the last. Veronica is cruel to her new partners-in-crime but vulnerable when alone—and we don’t really get a reason why. The failure of the basic plot set-up is obnoxious, but the twists (which I credit to Flynn) that come later throw the whole thing off the rails.
McQueen makes fantastic films that make us think. Flynn makes fun and pulpy mysteries that are hard to predict. Combining these two artists through a heist film might have worked, but it was a risky project that showcases the weaknesses in both forms. I found many of the plot point too dumb or unbelievable to care about. Mixed with a rushed and too-convenient ending how this film is so loved kind of baffles me.
This is not to say that the performances aren’t excellent. Daniel Kaluuya proved he can be a vicious psychopath (while remaining oddly likable) and once again makes me wonder why it took so long for him to be reaching A-list status. However, I think the best performance goes to Michelle Rodriguez who finally broke away from her type-cast badass and presents a more grounded and real character. Elizabeth Debicki and Garret Dillahunt round out the truly excellent supporting cast. Others did well, but we don’t get enough time with any of them to fully invest ourselves into their lives.
I have seen and heard others say that the film bit off more than it could handle in 2 and half hours. I do agree, but I also think the character-breaking twists that defy logic hurt it more than just taking on too much. The whole thing left a sour taste for me.
A lot of folks like this one though, so if you want a twisting thriller with some political undertones (and some major plot holes) it might be for you. Otherwise, might be worth a skip.