Writer: Steve McQueen, Gillian Flynn (script), Lynda La Plante (original TV series)
Cast: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Brian Tyree Henry, Carrie Coon, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Daniel Kaluuya, Jackie Weaver, Liam Neeson, Garrett Dillahunt, Jon Bernthal
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 129mins
What’s the story: In Chicago, four women are left owing $2m to a crime lord when their husbands are killed attempting to steal his money.
What’s the verdict: Remaking a 35-year old ITV thriller may seem an odd choice for Steve McQueen as a follow-up to his Best Director Oscar winning 12 Years a Slave.
But, a fan of the series, he takes the framework of Lynda La Plante’s original story and, along with co-writer Gillian (Gone Girl) Flynn, delivers the smartest, most exciting Hollywood heist movie since Affleck’s The Town or Spike Lee’s Inside Man.
Broad, ambitious, political, blackly comic and hungrily played by a first-rate cast, Widows is the thriller needed in these Trumpian times.
Literally opening with kiss-kiss, bang-bangs, brief moments of domestic life are intercut with the ballistically botched heist. The career criminals, including Liam Neeson’s Harry and Jon Bernthal’s Florek, are soon on the wrong end of heavy-duty firepower, their wives left holding a $2m debt to local crime lord Manning (Henry).
Manning plans to use the money to fund a campaign for city council of Chicago’s 18th ward, his motivation being white collar crime is less lethal than running drugs. This puts him in direct opposition with Colin Farrell’s Jack Mulligan, who is inheriting dad Robert Duvall’s legacy as the ward’s politician.
Harry’s wife Veronica (Davis), de facto leader because of Harry’s position in the crew, recruits Linda (Rodriguez) and Alice (Debicki) to help pull off a daring robbery, instructions for which Harry has meticulously detailed in a notebook.
Planning and executing the heist takes the women far beyond their comfort zones. Even more so when Manning’s dead-eye brother and enforcer Jatemme (a terrifying Kaluuya) arrives to crank up the pressure.
McQueen and regular cinematographer Sean Bobbitt shoot Widows in wintry greys and blacks, but the movie’s worldview is jaundiced yellow. Everyone and everything are commodified, institutions are compromised or corrupt and acts of kindness contain hidden costs.
Notably, the most unscrupulous characters are men, or women of a certain age (Jackie Weaver as Alice’s mother suggests her daughter escorts to fund college). In a subtle piece of #MeToo solidarity, Veronica, Linda, and Alice are different because of their decency.
This places them at a disadvantage, but the bond also provides an edge as they call on others to help them plan the audacious robbery, including the tough Belle (Erivo). Plus, as Veronica bitterly puts it, they’ll avoid suspicion because “No-one thinks we have the balls to pull this off.”
Like all great thrillers, the politics and social commentary are there if you want them, woven into character backstory, including a shocking Black Lives Matter-influenced murder.
If you just want intelligent, exciting storytelling, Widows has that too. Alongside a script with big late-in-the-day twists and taut, assured direction.
Cinema Sins will have fun nitpicking loose ends, but our only (minor) complaint is the heist itself is too brief. Giddily exciting while it’s happening, we could have done with a minute or so more complication to further increase tension.
The cast are uniformly excellent, including Garrett Dillahunt in a small role as Veronica’s mentally damaged driver. The women themselves command the screen, including Carrie Coon as the fourth wife who does not want in on the job.
Davis and Rodriguez convey the desperate uncertainty of minority women left with nothing. Davis stoically carries the dramatic weight of the film, allowed only brief moments of emotional breakdown.
But, best supporting actress noms are likely to go to Debicki. Believably evolving from punching bag to resourceful, driven main player in the gang, she is on career-best form here.
One of the year’s best movies, Widows is proof that intelligent storytelling can be happily wed to genre thrills.