Arguably the most ambitious heist movie since Heat, just as did Michael Mann's genre (re)defining epic, Widows has aspirations beyond the limits of its generic template. Operating firmly within a genre framework, the film tries to filter the basic heist template through a feminist pseudo-MeToo prism, taking in such side-issues as political corruption, police homicide, Black Lives Matter, institutional racism, American gun culture, hegemonic masculinity, and the importance of wealth. The problem, however, is that director Steve McQueen tries to pack too much into too short a space of time. Whilst I can certainly appreciate how progressive the narrative is, placing a black woman at the centre of a genre traditionally dominated by white men, the film still needs to work as a genre piece, or no amount of moralising, didacticism, polemics, or political grandstanding can save it. And this is where Widows fails most egregiously - the core genre elements are as far-fetched and ridiculous as anything you're likely to see out of mainstream Hollywood.
Obviously not especially interested in making what he sees as a generic crime thriller about bereft women taking matters into their own hands, McQueen uses the material as a vehicle for a racially-tinted critique of both powerful men (who are mainly, but not exclusively, white) and the corrupt systems that enable them. By depicting life at various social strata in Chicago the film attempts to address a plethora of issues. And herein lies one of the film's biggest problems. Rather than trying to deal with one or two core issues with something resembling thoroughness, it instead tries to deal with upwards of about seven, and ends up saying little of relevance about any. There's gender, economics, politics, racism, police corruption, prostitution, gun culture, materialism, etc. It often feels as if McQueen and Flynn were simply throwing ideas against a wall to see what stuck, especially when you consider just how little attention some of these themes receive, making you wonder why they're there at all.
Which is not to say, of course, that none of the film's themes are foregrounded. Gender, for example, is built into the plot, especially in relation to notions of subverting the patriarchal status quo. Similarly front-and-centre is the theme of race relations, something introduced in the opening frames - an above-the-bed shot of Harry and Veronica engaged in some very heavy petting. Another excellent shot that carries huge thematic importance, this time in relation to city-wide macroeconomics, can be seen when Jack and his assistant travel from a poor black neighbourhood to the affluent white suburb in which his campaign headquarters is situated. Filmed in one of McQueen's patented single-takes, what's especially interesting here is that after Farrell and Kunz get into the car, we can hear them, but we can't see them ï¿ 1/2" the camera remains fixed on the bonnet, with only a portion of the windshield and one of the side-mirrors visible. Meanwhile, we see the city rapidly change in real-time in the background, taking only a couple of minutes to go from skid row to millionaire's row. McQueen's unusual camera placement forces the audience to acknowledge just how thin the line is, geographically speaking, between rich and poor.
For me though, the whole thing was underwhelming and predictable, with a twist that's as ridiculous as they come, and a narrative that relies far too much on coincidence and movie-logic. Much as David Simon has always argued The Wire was about the quintessential American City, McQueen is here attempting to tell a story much larger than the sum of its parts. However, unlike the Baltimore of The Wire, or the LA of Heat, McQueen's Chicago doesn't feel lived in (as opposed to say, Michael Mann's depiction of the same city in Thief); it feels like someone's idea of a city rather than an actual depiction of that city.
With the plot often feeling contorted to support the themes, rather than the themes arising from the plot, McQueen's didactic and polemic concerns seem to have overridden his abilities as a storyteller. More a vehicle for protestation than anything else, that it tries to cover so many topics makes the whole experience emotionless, as if the filmmakers were dispassionately working off a checklist of issues on which to touch, rather than allowing the plot to organically lead into those issues. For this kind of film to work, the central heist narrative must be able to stand on its own, and this one most definitely cannot, which neuters the very real criticisms that the film is so concerned with enunciating. The socio-political commentary is never really integrated into the narrative - so you end up with a film that feels like its preaching at you rather than talking to you, light on emotion and dramatic verisimilitude, but top-heavy with moral superiority.
I don't know why some people are hating on this movie, but I thought it was one of the best crafted and directed movies of 2018. Widows is full of twists, turns and just unexpected events colliding with eachother. The result is a really well crafted heist movie with very menacing villains on all sides of the political and criminal system. This is what makes Widows so interesting, you think you're fighting one bad guy, but he has an enemy too, and that enemy doesn't like you either. It's a lot of double-crossing and manipulation and it keeps you at the edge of your seat. The set up of some storylines and how they pay off is also very satisfying to see. The directing by Steve McQueen is just phenomenal. The score by Hans Zimmer is really great too and the performances of all the actors involved were spot-on. Overall, Widows is an engaging heist-thriller and a far better alternative to something like Ocean's 8.
Weaknesses: The heist itself is kind of disappointing. Theyâ(TM)re in and out of the place in surprisingly quick fashion and only one thing goes wrong. When it does, they basically get away with no consequences. Even when one character is brought to the hospital for a gunshot wound, there are no questions asked. The same goes for how the women use their money, as it feels like people would ask where they got it from. I didnâ(TM)t care much for the acting of Colin Farrell (Jack Mulligan) and each time Lukas Haas (David) was on screen, I was bored to tears. He served one small purpose for the plot and was otherwise useless. Also, itâ(TM)s not a major issue, but the camerawork was strange at times and some of the directorial choices were odd.
Overall: Like the yearâ(TM)s earlier heist movie, âDen of Thieves,â? this had a lot going for it but suffered from a handful of problems that held it back from being truly great. Check it out for the cool twist and great acting.