‘Heist film’ has so far been a common description of this new film from director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Shame), as if it belongs solely to this crime sub-genre. A heist is indeed at the centre of the film’s story and the ensemble surrounding this criminal plan, but Widows plays out more like an absorbing character-driven drama, though one that’s likely sillier and funnier than its super-serious marketing has led you to believe.
After a failed robbery of millions of dollars leave the burglars dead (plus their riches incinerated), doom comes crashing down upon the already mourning titular widows. Veronica (Viola Davis) is threatened by mayor candidate Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry) to reimburse him with the millions of dollars her husband, Harry (Liam Neeson), owed him. She discovers a notebook her late husband left that details plans of an upcoming robbery, so she recruits fellow widows Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) to pull off this posthumous heist.
Even in this concept, the film sounds daft –a number of completely inexperienced, yet ambitious folks pulling off such a criminal move was played out as ridiculous slapstick in American Animals, but Widows plays itself with much more seriousness – at least for the most part, as it also isn’t afraid to indulge in some straight-faced humour.
Widows fills itself to the brim, spending the right amount of time looking into the lives of its lengthy cast of characters, not only presenting all the ways each of the women must contribute to bringing this plan to life, but also how they must navigate their lives now newly bereaved, where attention is given to their different complications because of their differences in class.
Not all of this busy film was worth keeping in, with some brief moments leading to unsatisfying dead ends, and one particular family member showing up midway through the movie feels shoe-horned in so Widows can cheaply and artificially inflate its own social importance. With just a bit of this fat excised, Widows could be just that bit more effective, even if these glaring flaws don’t quite ruin the enjoyment of the scenes that do work.
After all the complexity surrounding the heist and all it entails, the conclusion feels a bit too clean and satisfying; it doesn’t have the feeling of a continuing dread about its various loose ends. Despite a lack of appropriate edge at its finish, Widows is still a rather accomplished piece of work that pays just as much attention on the shady background of political corruption as it does on the lives of the financially struggling single women now paying for their late husbands’ crimes – it’s worth going along with, even at its wonkiest.