Austin Film Festival 2018 Review: WIDOWS

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Director Steve McQueen, a filmmaker known for his bleak and powerful films Shame and Twelve Years A Slave, has a new film in theaters that shares his dark and cynical style, but still manages to be entertaining and empowering.  With Widows, McQueen takes on a heist film that offers incendiary action and a dark sense of humor.  This kind of flick is right at home during an era in America that feels riddled with selfishness, greed, and the hunger for power. As desolate and cold things currently are in the real world, McQueen’s latest offers a ray of hope, through its protagonists who refuse to take the world’s hate and uncaring lying down.

Viola Davis stars as Veronica Rawlings, a Chicago teacher’s union delegate and recent widow to husband Harry (Liam Neeson).  Harry was a career thief whose last heist with his crew went terribly wrong.  After their husbands get killed in their botched heist, Veronica, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), and Amanda (Carrie Coon) must all deal with the aftermath of their deaths, which also includes some debts for their past misbehavior.  In particular, Harry died owing a massive debt to gangster/ambitious politician Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry).  When Jamal and his brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) threaten the widows over the debt, Veronica rallies the ladies together and plans a heist to clear the debt and keep everyone safe.

Based on the British series of the same name by Lydia La Plante, Widows is one badass heist flick that offers some intelligent social commentary about politics, greed, and the treatment of women in America.  Writer/director McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn have made an epic crime film that covers a lot of thematic material and manages to do so in 129 minutes.  Though some of the beats and themes have been handled previously, the filmmakers make it all more relevant to various problems which trouble the United States today.

The movie features a prodigious supporting cast of amazing talents which also includes Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Jackie Weaver, Robert Duvall, Garret Dillahunt, Jon Bernthal, and Lukas Haas. I was also impressed with the performances by Michelle Rodriguez, Daniel Kaluuya, and Bryan Tyree Henry.  However, the real standouts in this film are Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki.

Debicki portrays what probably is the most compelling character in the film and does so with much genuine torment and pathos. Because of her attractive looks and sweet nature, Alice has suffered from abuse and other kinds of mistreatment from men and even family. Debicki does an outstanding job of fleshing out a very well written and developed character.  The superb performance of Viola Davis comes at no surprise whatsoever.

If any one actress right now personifies strength, power and presence, that woman would be Viola Davis.  Davis shines beautifully here as a strong and intelligent lady who has extraordinary survival skills.  Her character may be overwhelmed, disillusioned, and utterly frightened, but she will prevail or  die trying. That’s exactly what Viola Davis brings to this role. She makes the audience feel her fears and emotions, but also her determination to overcome the difficult challenges she faces.

And though Widows is probably not Steve McQueen’s best film, it is definitely his most empowering one.  His cinematic world can be cruel, unforgiving and utterly selfish, but the protagonists in his latest movie will fight tooth and nail to rise above this. This spirit is what should drive all who are faced with seemingly impossible challenges or problems. This movie offers a much-needed attitude that shoves a massive middle finger into the face of adversity.

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