WIDOWS – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Viola Davis (Fences), Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar), Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), Cynthia Erivo (Bad Times at the El Royale), Colin Farrell (Seven Psychopaths), Brian Tyree Henry (Hotel Artemis), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Carrie Coon (The Leftovers), Robert Duvall (The Godfather), Liam Neeson (Silence)

Director: Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)

Writers: Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) & Steve McQueen

Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes

Release Date: 6 November (UK), 16 November (US)

It’s been a while since Steve McQueen (not that one) has graced our screens with another picture. After his Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave, you might have expected the director to immediately get his next project greenlit and off to the races for the next awards season, but that has proven not to be McQueen’s style. Instead, he’s taken his time with his newest venture, and he’s certainly gone for an out-of-the-box choice: an adaptation of a British TV show from the 1980s. But Widows is anything but McQueen giving in to Hollywood temptation. Instead, it is yet another testament to his ability as a filmmaker you cannot ignore.

I haven’t seen the original series, so I cannot judge Widows as an adaptation, but I presume most audiences probably won’t have even heard of the show anyway. As a standalone modern crime drama, Widows doesn’t exactly delve into territory that hasn’t been touched on in a variety of other films and TV shows. However, that doesn’t mean it has nothing to say or it isn’t an engaging story regardless. As apposed to some of its contemporaries that feel like they take place in some filmic heightened reality, the story and world of Widows is a very accurate echo of America today and reflects some very timely subject matter; corrupt politics, aggravated racial tensions, and women rising up to finish what the men couldn’t are all themes a modern audience can certainly relate to. Though one could call it a heist film, it avoids many of the structural tropes of the genre, with the actual theft itself downplayed in favour of focusing on the planning and background intrigue leading up to it. Though that lack of action may disappoint some, Widows clearly has greater motivations than being just another crime flick, and McQueen’s direction and thematic layering gives it an undeniably distinct flavour.

Much like his previous film, McQueen has assembled a gargantuan number of A-list players to fill out the cast, with even the minor roles filled with recognisable character actors. Everyone in the cast delivers top-notch work no matter how big their part, but at its core Widows belongs to its three main stars. The role of Veronica Rawlins feels tailor-made for Viola Davis, and she more than digs her teeth into this meaty material. Rawlins is a reserved and often unsympathetic protagonist, but the determination and raw emotional vigour Davis imbues her with makes her a compelling one no matter her situation. Michelle Rodriguez hasn’t been this good in years, managing to avoid being yet another futch tough girl as she’s often typecast and instead ably playing the struggling mother just trying to build a life for her kids. Elizabeth Debicki really gets to flex her chops here too, impressing the audience as much as the characters in-story as more than just the materialistic, submissive young woman everyone perceives her as.

Cynthia Erivo feels a little short-changed as the fourth wheel, not becoming relevant until quite late into the story and covering much of the same ground as Rodriguez’s character. I wish the film had given her more time to develop her, or maybe even a background more distinct than her fellow female felons, because Erivo’s performance continues to prove she is an actress to watch. The list goes on and on of actors to wax lyrical about their performances, because they’re all excellent, but I do really have to give special mention to Daniel Kaluuya’s performance as Jatemme. What could have been a generic enforcer role in another actor’s hands is made engaging and memorable by his twisted characterisation, and shows the young actor still has plenty of unique cards in his deck.

Whilst Widows is fairly light on action, that doesn’t mean what little is there isn’t well executed. McQueen makes ample use of his love for long takes in all manner of scenes, but their use in the spurts of action are especially distinct in how visceral they are shot; Sean Bobbitt continues to prove himself an excellent cinematographer. Though a long film and often drawn out for the sake of tension, there doesn’t seem to be a spare frame in the film’s tight editing, and the rollicking soundscape and Hans Zimmer’s subdued but effective score effectively amplifies the film’s sombre mood.

Widows proves once again Steve McQueen as a modern master of cinema, continuing to show his versatility in handling genre whilst not sacrificing the intricacies that defines all of his work. Though not as astoundingly provocative as his last picture, 12 Years a Slave is a tough act to follow, and Widows has far different intentions that it mostly succeeds in accomplishing. With its compelling timely themes and excellent performances from the whole cast, this is a film that will certainly get a fair amount of consideration once the race to awards season really kicks off.

FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10

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Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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