Viola Davis anchors “Widows” with a nuanced lead performance. (Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox)

‘Widows’ a fun heist thriller with a touch of depth

“Hunger,” “Shame” and “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen brings his interests in social justice and extreme means to a genre format in “Widows,” a heist thriller that’s fun and fairly filling.

Adapting a 1980s British TV series, McQueen and cowriter Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) reset the story in contemporary Chicago and combine prestige filmmaking with pulpy crime drama.

Viola Davis plays Veronica, a teachers’-union administrator married to well-off criminal Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson). In an opening passage, McQueen vigorously cuts from Veronica and Harry kissing to a botched-heist-related explosion that leaves Veronica grieving.

Veronica learns from criminal-turned-politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) that Harry owed him $2 million. That debt is now Veronica’s responsibility, Jamal says, clutching her little dog menacingly. Failure to pay will result in a visit from Jamal’s murderously crazed brother, Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya).

Finding hope in a notebook that contains Harry’s old robbery plans, Veronica decides to finish a job Harry and his crew started. Transforming into a badass, she forms a team with financially strapped widows whose husbands died in the explosion. Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) has lost her dress shop. Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), heeding the distressing advice of her mother (Jacki Weaver), has become an escort.

Belle (Cynthia Erivo), a no-nonsense hairdresser, comes aboard as the getaway driver.

“No one thinks we have the balls to pull this off,” Veronica says, proving such doubters wrong.

Entwined with the heist plot are political campaigns, each with shady alderman candidate. The above-mentioned Jamal is running for office, as is Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), son of racist, anti-immigrant, political-dynasty boss Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall).

Lacking the depth, resonance and significance of McQueen’s earlier films, “Widows” has ridiculous moments, training-session lines like “Crying isn’t on the list!” and a revenge element that’s more obligatory than satisfying.

Still, it’s McQueen’s most entertaining and warm-tempered film yet, and as a genre picture, it delivers.

Spiking the story with issues of class, race, gender divides, corruption, police brutality and old-guard exclusivity, McQueen creates relevant social texture. Sometimes, the movie brings to mind the big-city corruption dramas of Sidney Lumet or the urban tapestries of John Sayles or Robert Altman.

McQueen juggles numerous characters nimbly, employs flashbacks efficiently and uses camera work to splendid effect. When Jack is riding in a car with an associate, McQueen focuses not on their conversation, but on the changing sights of the economically disparate neighborhoods they pass.

Transcending the screenplay, Davis powerfully anchors the film, taking Veronica from grieving and being haunted to anger and formidability and showing Veronica’s complex emotions and evolving feelings about Harry.

Debicki, meanwhile, is a delight as Alice, who, having lacked confidence, realizes her capabilities.

As for the baddies, Duvall is the toxic loudmouth we want him to be, and Kaluuya, the decent protagonist in “Get Out,” is chilling as a psychopathic henchman.

REVIEW
Widows
Three stars
Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo
Written by: Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hours, 9 minutes

Brian Tyree HenryCynthia ErivoDaniel KaluuyaElizabeth DebickiGillian FlynnMichelle RodriguezMovies and TVSteve McQueenViola DavisWidows

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The admissions process at the academically competitive Lowell High School is set to change this year due to coronavirus restritions. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Lowell’s selective admissions process put on hold this year — and more changes may be in the works

School board votes unanimously to use normal student assignment lottery for competitive school

Dr. Vincent Matthews, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, said Tuesday that student would not be back in school before the end of this calendar year. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Superintendent: City schools will not reopen before the end of the year

San Francisco public schools won’t reopen to students for the rest of… Continue reading

San Francisco will allow bars selling drinks, and not food, to begin serving customers outdoors under health guidelines going into effect next month. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF becomes first Bay Area County to move to least restrictive COVID-19 category

Change to ‘yellow’ will allow more indoor dining and fitness, reopening non-essential offices

City officials want to install more red light cameras but the process is costly and time consuming. (Shutterstock)
Transit officials push for more red light cameras

SFMTA says ‘capital crunch’ and dragging timelines make expanding the program cumbersome

Police release an image a cracked windshield on a Prius that Cesar Vargas allegedly tried to carjack. Vargas, who was shot by police a short time later, can be seen in videos jumping on the windshield and pushing a Muni passenger who disembarked from a bus. (Courtesy SFPD
SFPD releases videos of deadly police shooting

Cesar Vargas killed after reports of carjacking with knife

Most Read