The most unorthodox of cinematic partnerships can, on occasion, result in the most sublime of pictures that can possibly be offered. For instance, this film’s pairing of a British director with an American author doesn’t seem natural, yet the finished product proves that the two complement each other perfectly.
Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) has been left without a family after her husband, and career criminal, Harry (Liam Neeson) died in a warehouse explosion at the hands of Chicago’s police force. Incinerated with Harry were three of his cronies and $2 million in cash, stolen in a botched robbery from aspiring politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). Without said cash, Jamal is unable to finance his congressional campaign and risks losing to Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the son of a wealthy Chicago family.
Left without any other options, Jamal threatens the life of Veronica and her dog, demanding that she repay him within one month. Veronica doesn’t have that amount of money in her possession, but does possess Harry’s old notebook, which he wrote in to plan all of his heists. In that same book are details for a theft Harry had yet to commit, and it’s with these very same plans that Veronica begins to organise a heist of her own, with some assistance.
Veronica contacts the wives of Harry’s deceased associates, of which only two agree to meet her: Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki). None of the three women, who remained distant from the doings of their husbands, have any experience in crime, but ill-prepared they are not, having the street-smarts necessary to purchase the equipment they need. The only hurdle to Veronica’s plan is that she needs a fourth person to act as a getaway driver, a role which her chauffeur Bash (Garret Dillahunt) is hesitant to accept.
Widows is the feature-length Hollywood reimagining of a British miniseries by famed crime writer Lydia La Plante, which has been adapted by Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame. Flynn’s script keeps the premise, names of some characters, and even the very same twist of the original series, whilst moving events to Illinois and adding a political element to proceedings. Helping to retain the source material’s British roots is director Steve McQueen, who helms his first release since the Academy Award-winning 12 Years a Slave of five years ago.
Until now, McQueen has not handled films of the action or thriller genre, being better recognised for his dramatic work; similarly, novel writing has been the forte of Flynn, who only familiarised herself with screenplays after adapting her own work for David Fincher. Having these two artists collaborate seems like the most unholy of alliances, but Widows proves otherwise, managing to be the best project either McQueen or Flynn has ever crafted.
Widows is a modern noir film in every sense, featuring a group of morally, and literally, corrupt characters who are all brilliantly written and cast. Leading the way is Viola Davis, effortlessly showing both the pained and fierce sides of Veronica’s personality; another honourable mention is Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme, the fearsome brother and enforcer of Jamal; and then there’s Cynthia Erivo as Belle, delivering another confident performance barely a month after her breakthrough role in Bad Times at the El Royale.
What’s most remarkable about Flynn’s writing is how she persuades the audience to sympathise with these characters, despite their moral deficiencies. Take Veronica as an example – here is a woman who knowingly, willingly married a felon, benefited from his crimes and seeks to follow in his footsteps by stealing money herself; yet there is never an instance where Veronica is unlikeable, for her good nature proves she is every bit as entitled to Harry’s money as anybody else.
McQueen supplements this superb, nuanced screenplay with his prowess as a director, ensuring that the cinematography is clear, the pacing smooth and the suspense growing and plenteous – by the time Widows reached its finale, the tension was so immense that this reviewer was left physically shaking, the first time he has ever experienced such a sensation watching any film. On top of that, there’s a subdued score from Hans Zimmer that perfectly matches the atmosphere in every scene.
Widows demonstrates that McQueen and Flynn are the undisputed masters of their respective crafts, for together they have created an intricate, intelligent picture that is among 2018’s best. Riddled with fascinating characters, exceptional performances and a truly tense climax, this is an adaptation that, well and truly, is a fantastic film in its own right.
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