At first glance, Widows appears to be a lark of a popcorn crime flick. However, the tone of Steve McQueen’s latest film, while darkly humorous, is quite dark. It might not be such a lark after all, and the Oscar-winner’s Chicago-set crime story, pimped out as a star-studded, revenge-driven heist thriller, might actually be an intricate drama about class warfare.
Or, Widows (★★★) might mean to explore the insidious effect of political corruption on America’s inner cities. The film invites a number of interpretations with its sprawling high-caliber cast and winding plotlines revolving around three widows planning to pull off a multi-million dollar heist that their dead husbands never had the chance to attempt.
Viola Davis stars as Veronica, whose husband Harry (Liam Neeson) was the mastermind of the now-deceased gang. Naturally, Veronica steps up to lead her fellow widows Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) into battle when desperate times call for the ladies to follow in the gang’s outlaw footsteps.
The women, all of whom benefited from their husbands’ life of crime though never participated in it, don’t have a choice to steer clear of it now. They have a corrupt local politician, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), breathing down their necks for money Harry owed him, and he’ll unleash his lethal gangster brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) on Veronica or anyone else who would deny him his due.
Widows gets lost in the weeds probing Jamal’s hotly contested race for a ward alderman seat against another ethically challenged politico, Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). Although Henry and Kaluuya’s crazy sibling act of baldly unscrupulous Jamal and blasé psychopath Jatemme pays dividends, as does Farrell’s admirably controlled turn as an establishment jerk, the campaign story steals too much screen-time from the widows.
The film plunges deep down a rabbit hole of civic intrigue before it finally connects the alderman race to the plot really worth caring about: Veronica, Linda, and Alice stealing that money, with the help of Linda’s babysitter, Belle (Cynthia Erivo).
Highbrow intentions aside, Widows, based on the ’80s English crime series, ultimately overcomes its political digressions and gets the job done as a compelling, crowd-pleasing heist flick. Davis, the steely center of a uniformly strong ensemble, is riveting, as usual. Whenever the movie is in Veronica’s hands, it can do no wrong. Her story blends powerful emotion, realism and gun-blazing action, culminating in a well-paced climax that should leave audiences rooting for the three not-so-merry widows.
Widows is rated R, and opens everywhere on November 16. Visit landmarktheatres.com.