Steve McQueen makes his first foray into thriller territory with Widows, a screen adaptation of Linda LaPlante’s 1980s mini-series. Transplanting the action across the Atlantic to Chicago, McQueen brings his usual well composed direction to proceedings, turning this pulpy tale into a classy piece of entertainment.
McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) get straight into the set-up and keep the plot simple: a criminal gang is killed when a robbery goes wrong and their wives must repay a debt to a crime boss-turned politician.
Viola Davis is Veronica, the wife of the gang’s leader Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) who must gather together $2 million in order to pay-off Brian Tyree Henry’s Jamal Manning, a gangster with political aspirations. She decides to team with Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki, the put upon wives of her husband’s crew, so they can pull-off a heist their husbands never got around to. They recruit Cynthia Erivo as the new crew’s driver, and all they have to do is figure out how to become criminals.
McQueen has always been one to mix stunning visual moments with great performances (the brushing in Hunger, the running in Shame). Here the most impressive bit of camerawork comes when a bonnet mounted camera tracks from a poor neighbourhood to a rich area in one fluid shot, while conversation takes place offscreen inside the car. That’s great cinema.
Performance-wise, there’s quite a lot to write home about too. While Viola Davis gets most of the plaudits, many people are over-looking the sensitive work carried out by Elizabeth Debicki as the abused-wife who slowly starts to come into her own. Colin Farrell is also excellent as the career politician who is finding it hard to come out from under his father(Robert Duvall)’s shadow and Daniel Kaluuya is an intimidating presence as Jamal’s brother and muscle.
However, for as good as it all is, you can’t help feeling that with all the talent involved, it could have been so much better. Don’t get me wrong, Widows is a top-tier thriller but somehow it fails to pack serious gut punch. Everything goes the way that you’d expect and save for a few twists and turns, it’s boilerplate stuff. I don’t have a problem with that, but I was expecting more from a film with this cast and this director.