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Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki
Director: Steve McQueen
Screenplay: Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen
Crime/Drama/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 129 minutes
Release Date: November 16, 2018
Scott, it looks like we’re getting “Ocean’s Four” – this time from director Steve McQueen.
Yes, indeed, Gregger. Let’s dive right into these murky ocean waters.
We’re introduced to Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) who is married to robber extraordinaire Harry (Liam Neeson). They’re living the high life until one day, one of Harry’s jobs goes south and he’s killed leaving Veronica to fend for herself. But Harry left something behind – his notebook of heists – including his next one worth five million dollars.
Crime boss Jamaal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) knows all about Harry’s past and is angry about Harry losing him money. So he threatens Veronica, telling her that she has one month to give him two million dollars. Veronica’s only recourse is to use Harry’s notebook to pull off the next heist. She needs a team and recruits the two other widows — Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), and she recruits a fourth person, a kick-ass woman named Belle (Cynthia Erivo).
Widows is a well-acted and directed heist film set in current-day Chicago. Writer/director Steve McQueen (along with co-writer Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame) have taken on a host of social pariahs interwoven with an entertaining heist film. And for that, the film suffers. The heist portion of the film and the dynamics of the women involved makes for a great story. However, the intertwining issues of mob violence, government/police corruption, and driving-while-black injustice weigh the film down. None of the issues get enough focus and ultimately distract from the main story. Compare and contrast with last month’s excellent The Hate U Give which deftly dealt with these issues.
Viola Davis is simply amazing in the role of a woman who knows she’s living with a thief, and then is thrust into his world when she decides to take on his last heist. She’s desperate and smart and will let nothing stand in her way. Davis is joined by one of my favorite actresses Michelle Rodriguez. Each of the four women in this group has a “missing inner quality” to overcome in the execution of the heist. And their ‘becoming’ is what makes this a fantastic multi-way hero’s journey.
Having said that, the requirement that all the women undergo a transformation does make for some storytelling sleight-of-hand. In the case of Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) who was widowed by an abusive husband (one of the men who was killed in the opening heist), she learns to be strong and independent. But the scene in which this occurs has her telling off her ‘benefactor’ who is paying her for her company. It’s an awkward scene where she simultaneously wants him to leave his wife and wants to leave him. She always had the capacity to do so and this ‘coming of age’ moment falls flat. I think if the other social justice issues were cropped away, more attention to the emergence of these women into their own agency would have been stronger. This is just one example of where I think Widows takes on too much.
Greg, you’re right that this movie centers on women’s agency. I’d say that Widows is a film about three issues — how men abuse power, how women recover from that abuse, and how women use power wisely. This movie is not for the faint of heart. We see men shooting and torturing other men, and it’s rather graphic. The movie intentionally elicits visceral responses from us to maximize our revulsion for bad male behavior and its ill-effects on communities, families, and women and children especially.
Our heroes are an ensemble of women who are left to pick up the pieces left by their thieving husbands. Threatened by their husbands’ cohorts, they are compelled to pull off a big heist to stay alive. Veronica is the lead widow, and I agree that Viola Davis deserves props for her powerful performance here. She’s tough as nails and demonstrates great leadership in prepping her team for the dangerous moment. Her three teammates are also strong, admirable women who step up to do what they must do to prevail over their dangerous circumstances.
It’s very telling that at the film’s end, our triumphant heroes handle their newfound power in a far more responsible way than did their scheming husbands. Veronica uses her new wealth to fund a new school library named in honor of her deceased son. Linda donates a large chunk of her money to her former boss, a hair salon owner financially beholden to a corrupt politician. There’s definitely a message here about women not only being able to recover from very bad male behavior but also demonstrating that they can use power ethically for the collective good.
Widows is an uncommon heist movie that entertains and educates. Despite the fact that it takes on too much in a 120-minute film, it delivers on its promises. I give Widows 4 out of 5 Reels.
The ensemble cast led by Viola Davis demonstrate four types of female ‘heroine’s journeys’. Veronica goes from a kept woman to an independent leader. And each of the other women find themselves in control of their own destinies. I think their stories would have been stronger if a few of the social justice elements of the film were left on the cutting room floor. I give this ‘Ocean’s Four’ 4 out of 5 Heroes.
The archetypes were a bit weak as well, again to the aggressive attempts to cover too many bases. The RISING SON played by Colin Farrell was a bit confusing as he seemed to both be corrupt and want to change the system. The WELL-MEANING GANGSTA played by Daniel Kaluuya was given too little backstory to be compelling. The BROTHER HENCHMAN played by Brian Tyree Henry was a dull, pure evil character and was given an abrupt cum-uppance. I give these archetypes just 2 out of 5 Arcs.
Greg, I truly enjoyed Widows as a dark and revealing portrait of how men abuse power and how women are often left to pick up the pieces and then use their power wisely. There is a deep and telling metaphorical value to this film along gender lines that is comparable to the metaphorical power of race in the recent film Green Book. This movie teaches us lessons about toxic masculinity and our society’s skewed gender roles. Like you, Greg, I give Widows 4 Reels out of 5.
This film is a story about women whose heroism can only emerge as a result of tragedy, which is classic hero storytelling. Our ensemble of heroes teach us the importance of courage, grit, and resourcefulness in triumphing over adversity. Greg, I’m going to have to disagree with you a bit about the way that the social justice issues here were handled. I thought the filmmakers dealt with these issues wisely and made them an important part of our heroes’ transformations. I give our ensemble 4 Hero points out of 5.
With regard to archetypes, we have a pretty rich array of deep roles here. There is the organized crime boss, his criminal henchmen, the corrupt politician, political nepotism, the widow, the prostitute, the fake-out death of the bad guy, revenge killing, and the getaway driver. These archetypes merit a rating of 4 Arcs out of 5.