The London Film Festival kicked off yesterday with an unflinching sucker punch in the form of Steve McQueen’s hotly anticipated heist-thriller Widows. His first return to directing since Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave, McQueen’s renowned work takes quite a turn genre-wise, diving into the depths of the murky crime drama. Featuring a killer ensemble cast, tight script and forbidding score, Widows is a slick, smart feature that hits the ground running and doesn’t look back.
Viola Davis plays Veronica Rawlins, a respected woman with a fancy Chicago apartment, a cute dog, and a husband who happens to be a seasoned criminal. When Harry is killed along with his team in a heist gone wrong, she is left reeling by the loss. The stolen money, burned along with the bodies, belonged to crime boss and local government candidate Jamal Manning, who now demands that Veronica pay her husband’s debt. After finding Harry’s notebook containing the plans for a second heist, Veronica makes the decision to finish the job for him. Not only would the money pay off the debt to Manning, she could make a hefty profit and secure her future. Veronica recruits the widows of Harry’s associates; Linda and Alice, who have both been left with nothing. The women are initially wary of the consequences, but as Veronica insists – why would anybody suspect them?
Though the story begins with their husbands, our three leads command the screen with an indubitable presence. Viola Davis’ Veronica is a force to be reckoned with, and though the other women find her unduly hostile, she is prepared to go to any lengths to get the job done. As can be expected, Davis carries the film well within her stride. Though Veronica might be in charge, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki deliver formidable performances as Linda and Alice, holding their own in the convoluted narrative with ease. The team is joined later by Belle, played by silver screen newcomer Cynthia Erivo, who packs her Tony-winning stage presence into her crucial supporting role. Playing off each other with hardened wit, these ladies prove that though their characters have nothing in common, their differences unite them as a powerful team that is not to be underestimated. The film’s depiction of grief is unique in that it shows the women using their pain to fuel their strategy; taking action rather than waiting to be comforted.
Running at just over two hours, McQueen and Gillian Flynn’s screenplay uses every minute of screen time, rarely taking a moment to pause. The tension is high from the get go, and only momentarily loosens the reins in a few valuable tender moments, fleshing out our characters emotionally. The relationship between the four women, though tenuous at times, is refreshingly frank. On the opposition, actor Daniel Kaluuya is a scene stealer; he’s downright terrifying as Manning’s brother and ruthless henchman, his merciless pursuit of the widows launching the narrative stakes into the stratosphere. Though the film is jam-packed with both characters and narrative threads that have the potential to confuse, the film feels remarkably neat.
If you can make it through Widows without passing out from impulsively holding your breath, I applaud you.
by Megan Wilson
Megan Wilson is a northerner currently studying film at King’s College London, and recently completed a semester at the University of Michigan. She is passionate about cats, old musicals, and turtleneck sweaters, but is not in fact an 80-year-old man. Her favourite films include Carol, Moonlight, Singin’ in the Rain, and Matilda. Find her on Twitter: @bertmacklln