Widows is a film that takes itself very seriously. That’s fine; dramas, and heist thrillers at that, can take themselves as seriously as they want, provided there aren’t getaway car-sized holes in the plot.
The eponymous players Veronica (a well-cast and always emphatic Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), having only just buried their husbands, all deceased in a violent robbery, must rally to pay off a debt lest Jamal (an underused Brian Tyree Henry) together with 2018’s violent, indiscriminate enforcer of the year, brought to life by Daniel Kaluuya, see fit to return.
Veronica’s husband Harry (Liam Neeson), having passed away with mates Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Coburn Goss, has left plans for the big job, providing just the way for her to nab the right amount. Thus begins the very brief period throughout which three now criminals, very new to the game, together with latecomer Belle (emerging star Cynthia Erivo) plan the type of job that the likes of their once partners only undertook with years of experience and training.
Not the film’s biggest problem, despite meticulously providing details for the job, including a way to circumvent the alarm system and a safe combination (a prelude to one of the film’s best and most surprising moments as things appear to fumble), Harry just as well left out the details for where the job is supposed to take place. Spending half the film finding out the location in Widow’s worst dramatic and egregiously nonsensical aberration, Director and Writer Steve McQueen (composing the screenplay together with Gillian Flynn) squandered a great deal of time and talent from what is probably the best assembled cast of the year, save perhaps another film from a series also starring Elizabeth Debicki.
We haven’t even gotten to the moreover dramatically underused Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell who play father and son respectively; boasting a dynamic and character arc for Farrell’s politician that could easily have been it’s own film. The latter, in one of innumerable and expectedly excellent showings, outdoes the veteran and everyone in this film.
There’s also Carrie Coon, the star and superb co-lead in The Sinner season 2 who is proffered little more than a walk on role, not to mention Jacki Weaver who rocks up and leaves inexplicably as Alice’s mother in order, in part, to remind her of the role of men in her life. It’s fairly a harsh comparison, but Weaver played the role of the actress Carolyn Minnott in The Disaster Artist who in turn played Lisa’s mother Claudette in The Room; a figure in The Disaster Artist’s precursor who arrived momentarily in part to lecture her daughter on the same subject in a not unrelated fashion only to leave without explanation. Widows is a far better production, though the narrative comparison is not unwarranted.
Widows is a sprawling epic with a sprawling cast which barely devotes enough time to anyone (yes that includes Liam Neeson – who is reliably memorable with what little time he has) who is not Veronica or Alice. Rodriguez is noticeably short-changed, though she does feature in the film’s best scene where the issue of grief is explored more emotively than evidenced elsewhere with a short-lived character whom she encounters briefly in the second act. Alice has the most defined arc, proving herself against many others who take her for nothing more than a statuesque blond, though her relationship with another relatively fleeting character David (Lukas Haas – again a seasoned performer featured but passingly) could have used a great deal more fleshing out.
A story that would have worked better with more time or as a miniseries, a 1980’s version of which proved the basis for this adaptation, uniting a cast like this can only resonate so strongly when they are not permitted the space to shine.
Widows is in cinemas now