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Review: Widows

November 16, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Directed by Steve McQueen, following up his Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, Widows is a twisty and often entertaining crime thriller that is carried by an all-star cast, immersing us in the seedy underbelly of contemporary Chicago.

The film opens with a heist gone wrong that ends up taking the lives of criminal mastermind Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his partners Florek (Jon Bernthal), Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Jimmy (Coburn Goss).

The botched robbery leaves Harry’s widow Veronica (Viola Davis) needing to pay off a debt, so she enlists the help of Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), who both also lost their husbands during the heist, as well as tough getaway driver Belle (Cynthia Erivo), to help her finish the job.

The debt is owed to Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who is running an underdog campaign for public office against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the son of a racist career politician (Robert Duvall), and had two million dollars stolen from his campaign by Harry and his crew. The screenplay, co-written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn and inspired by a British TV series from the 1980s, is a dense work that is somewhat impressive for the way it weaves together so many different story strands, but the film also juggles a few too many characters. Some of them end up feeling underdeveloped, and the plot is a bit contrived at times, revealing the pulpier impulses of Flynn’s other work.

But even if it doesn’t land every moment, Widows is still an extremely well crafted genre exercise that consistently impresses in terms of both its performances and technical elements. The film has shades of Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann and Brian DePalma, and even if it never quite reaches those heights, it’s slickly directed by McQueen, who brings a strong sense of style to the action scenes. Furthermore, the film is exceptionally put together by Oscar-nominated editor Joe Walker, and also features an excellent musical score by composer Hans Zimmer.

Bolstered by its thrillingly diverse ensemble cast, with moments for almost all of them to really shine, from Davis out in front leading the charge with her fierce performance to the scene-stealing supporting work by Daniel Kaluuya as Jamal’s vicious gangster brother, Widows is a fun ride that delivers some kickass moments and a few unexpected if far-fetched turns.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

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