Starring: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez
Running time: 129 minutes
Verdict: Four angry women play hard and fast with genre conventions
FOUR AND A HALF STARS
THIS hard-boiled heist flick doesn’t so much pass the Bechdel Test measuring representation of women in fiction as eviscerate it.
While the consequences aren’t pretty, that’s exactly what director Steve McQueen and his powerhouse cast intended.
Alongside Widows, the much-hyped all-female Ocean’s 8 sequel resembles a glossy fashion shoot.
In his muscular adaptation of Lynda La Plante’s breakthrough ‘80s TV series, McQueen (12 Years A Slave, Hunger) transplants the action from Thatcher-era London to contemporary, south side Chicago.
Two decades on, and in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, he and co-writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) raise the stakes still higher — rewriting the genre and gender rule books to allow for a hefty emotional wallop.
When their husbands are incinerated in a job-gone-horribly wrong, Widows’ back-against-the-wall protagonists rise phoenix-like from the ashes.
Since her bloke is the criminal mastermind of the heist, Veronica Rawlins (Viola Davis) takes most of the initial heat.
Soon after the funeral, Veronica receives an ominous visit from a rival operator to inform her that she has just inherited a $2 million debt.
To prove he means business, crime boss and would-be alderman Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) orders the execution of the family driver (Garret Dillahunt).
Manning’s dead-eyed brother/enforcer (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) obliges — without compunction.
All the late Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) has left his wife is a heavily-mortgaged apartment and the key to a safety deposit box that contains the blueprints for his next job.
A confidante warns her to offload that bequest as quickly as she is able, but Veronica is done doing what other people expect of her.
And the former teacher’s union delegate has no intention of becoming yet another victim.
The other widows find themselves in similarly desperate circumstances.
Linda Perelli’s (Michelle Rodriguez) husband has gambled away her retail business — the means by which she provides for her two young children.
Bullied first by her mother (Jacki Weaver), and then by an abusive husband (Jon Bernthal), Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki) is tired of being other people’s play thing. It doesn’t take much to tap the steely resolve beneath that until-now passive beauty.
Rounding out the novice heist team is Perelli’s babysitter, Belle (Cynthia Erivo), a single mum working two jobs and still barely keeping a roof over the head of the child she never sees.
Representing the system that these four women are up against is the crooked, entitled white male political dynasty run by the spleenful, long-time alderman Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall) and his cynical heir apparent Jack (Colin Farrell).
Widows is a crime caper that invests heavily in its characters.
McQueen even rejects the pleasures of a conventional genre pay-off in favour of a more powerful, thought-provoking end.
Raw, brutal, compelling, and heart-achingly sad.
WIDOWS OPENS ON THURSDAY.
Originally published as Review: Widows rewrite crime rules