Surprisingly snubbed by the Golden Globes, this is nevertheless in the Guardian’s Top Ten films of 2018 and took 10th place in the African-Americans Critics Association Top 10 films of 2018. Viola Davis’s performance was recognised by the BAFTA Awards, however, and she was given a nomination for Best Actress.
From Academy Award winning director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and co-writer and bestselling author Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) comes a blistering, modern-day thriller, based on the novel and 80s TV series by Lynda LaPlante, but now set against the backdrop of crime, passion and corruption. Widows is the story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica (Oscar winner Viola Davis), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
The background to the heist is a corrupt political contest for alderman of the city’s 18th ward. Colin Farrell plays Jack Mulligan, a young Irish-American politician from a deeply racist lineage who is challenged by Jatemme’s brother, Jamal, for local supremacy. As in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006), we’ve got regional corruption and criminal/cop conflict as the moral landscape against which a symbolic crime takes place.
But it’s the hearts and minds of the four female gangsters that form the core of Widows. Davis is Veronica Rawlings, a teachers’ union delegate with a fluffy white dog who walks the line between empowered and downright bossy toward the other women. Rodriguez plays browbeaten mom Linda, adding some really subtle complexity to her general vibe of exhaustion. The most fun performance comes from Debicki as Alice, an Amazonian babe who emerges from a life of abuse to scam men, rob the rich, and otherwise take ownership of her life.
In an interview with Reuters, McQueen has said that he wanted in Widows to ‘engage with that whole idea of escapism’ in the heist plot, but ‘not negate the political and the current … social economical environment that we live in today’. He gave himself, therefore, the difficult job of bolting a thrilling story to a sensitive social portrait, all while plugging in a set of character motivations revolving around grief, gender, race, and loneliness.
Veronica’s grief begins and ends this movie, and so it is her pain through which we experience all the delicate social textures that Widows presents. Because she’s tough and she needs to get the job done, Veronica holds her agony back—we learn only halfway through the movie that she has also lost a son—from the foreground. McQueen just about pulls off the feat of keeping us engaged in this story through the ambivalent heroism of this grieving woman. But it’s the dashing camerawork and broad historical awareness of Widows that makes it a truly sophisticated action film, and by far the best crime movie of 2018.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall