TIFF Review: Widows

Score: B-

Director: Steve McQueen

Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Liam Neeson

Running Time: 128 Minutes

Rated: R

“We have a lot of work to do.  Crying is not on the list.”

Incorporating a cast of extreme heavyweights, Steve McQueen reignites the heist genre by focusing on his characters, not the explosions, in the dark and gritty crime thriller Widows.

In the world of Viola Davis, very little ever goes wrong.  That mantra holds true here with her turn as Veronica, a delicate, if not naive woman who finds herself in a state of shock when her criminally connected husband turns up dead.  Sitting ideally in her luxury condo above the city, Veronica struggles to cope with her loss.  Her time to do so is quickly running out as her husband owes money to a pair of local heavyweights, each of which has made the recent widow the one responsible for paying the debt.

Though Widows appears to be a huge left turn for the Oscar-winning McQueen, the famed director finds a way to sort through the explosions and high tension sequences and uncover raw emotion that speaks truth to those watching on.  Veronica, in all complexity, yearns for a better understanding, a simpler life.  We never know how aware she was of her husband’s dealings, but her tenacity to adapt and conquer the world at large is both admirable and a bit frightening.

Davis, in all her glory, beautifully creates a character that is equal parts badass and vulnerable.  Unsure of her next move, Veronica is a character that screams authenticity.  She, in all her pride and glory, is discovering the ins and outs of the job just as we are, taking us along for the journey of her life as she attempts to stay calm while silently screaming erratically in the background.  Credit Davis here.  Though McQueen and Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn have created a heroic character, it is the actress who puts her stamp on the innovative lead, embodying the fish out of water Veronica to flawless perfection.

However, Widows isn’t all about our heroine - nor Davis for that matter.  A strong set of supporting players help to ground this crime thriller, giving it a pulse that lives long past the credits.  Liam Neeson does a number with limited screen time as Rawlins, Veronica’s doomed husband.  Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo join Davis on the big hit, and Brian Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya portray the two crime lords who are pushing the women to pay the debt.  The always brilliant Jackie Weaver and Robert Duvall do incredible work in minor exposure, giving the film a boost during its otherwise dry moments.

While at the onset we believe Widows to be an action thriller filled with explosions and death, McQueen combats the typical genre flair with strong character development, and more importantly character growth.  Veronica and company never sit and pity their situation, they are proactive, taking care of business and giving their husbands a run for their money (quite literally).  They stand up tall, defend themselves, and at their peak, understand the situation.  Granted the film isn’t overly complicated, and at times falls victim to its simplicity, that is easily overlooked based on the truth that rests within each of the character depictions.

When the heist finally begins, and we get to see the four woman, clad in all black, go to work, a lot has happened in the eyes of our leading ladies.  Though we understand the big picture, McQueen respects those watching on, never offering up a direct explanation, instead giving pebbles in which to process.  The act ignites the mind and offers up a slightly enhanced experience.  I can’t say that Widows is anything close to unique; however, its third act is anything but boring.

I can’t go as far as to proclaim Widows an overwhelming success - to be honest, McQueen has crafted better.  However, amidst all the typical clichés the director has created a genre film that makes us care.  I’m not sure if the result is a reflection of the direction or the actors, but I know one thing: the film is a real breath of fresh air.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.

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