Channelling his inner Michael Mann, director Steve McQueen’s latest, Widows, is the best heist crime-drama since Mann’s seminal 1995 film, Heat.
In Widows, the prominent criminal underworld figure Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his crew are killed by police in a heist-gone-wrong. Left to pick up the pieces is Harry’s wife Veronica (Viola Davis) and the wives of the rest of the deceased crew members. The newly made widows must band together and complete a heist in order to repay a debt owed by Harry and his team to mayoral candidate and fellow underworld figure Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) and his sadistic brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya).
On the surface level, Widows is not much more than a classic genre-film (a first for McQueen following Hunger (2008), Shame (2011) and the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave (2013)). Where this film stands out above the pack is in its twisty plot, directional style and outstanding performances. McQueen has clearly used the excellent Michael Mann film Heat as an inspiration for the tone, relying heavily on dramatic, supremely executed scenes between its cast members. Widows doesn’t feature an epic shootout, or the like to appease gung-ho crime-film fans, but makes up for it with its own style, using more subtle, but equally as tense violence. As with most of McQueen’s work, he expertly crafts the tension in every scene, be it violent or otherwise.
The film features an all-star cast, led superbly with a stern performance by Viola Davis, who is at her best here. Likewise, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo are just as good rounding out the rest of the principal widow cast. The four widows, while strangers to each other initially, form an at-times uneasy bond over the duration of the film, with an organic-feeling chemistry between them – a testament to the selective casting and experience of the actresses. The male characters in the film are just as good with Liam Neeson and Colin Farrell, while only featured in small roles, are in top form. Bryan Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya make for great villains with their staunch performances; Kaluuya often stealing each scene that he’s in.
We’ve seen many a heist movie come and go over the years, and there is usually only a couple in each decade that really stand out from the rest in terms of acing every element that viewers look for in a good film. Audience engagement and emotional attachment to the characters are two aspects that any great film must have to raise it to the top level of the genre. Widows, under the masterful direction of Steve McQueen reaches that level easily.
According to Steve McQueen, Colin Farrell and Robert DuVall improvised many of their scenes.