Viola Davis stars as Veronica Rawlins, who find herself widowed and in debt after her criminal mastermind husband Harry (Liam Neeson) steals another criminal’s cash.
British director Steve McQueen’s decision to take on the studio remake of a 1980s British TV show Widows, written by Prime Suspect creator Lynda La Plante, initially raised eyebrows.
The story centres on a group of four desperate women who carry out a daring heist after their criminal husbands die on a job gone bad.
However, the Oscar-winning director hired Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn to co-write the script and moved the action across the pond to Chicago, broadening the story to include themes of social inequality, legacy and dirty politics. He also hired Viola Davis in her first role as a leading lady.
Davis stars as a retired teacher and former union delegate Veronica Rawlins, who finds herself widowed and in debt after her criminal mastermind husband Harry (Liam Neeson) steals another criminal’s cash.
The film opens with scenes of the pair lovingly kissing in bed, interspersed with flashbacks of her husband’s final heist unfolding.
However, the gang - Florek (Jon Bernthal), Jimmy Nunn (Coburn Goss), and Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) - all die as the heist goes south, and before Veronica can process her grief, Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry) a drug dealer turned politician, turns up at her home threatening her beautiful Westie dog (Olivia) and demanding the return of the $2 million stolen by Harry.
This leads to Veronica recruiting the other widows, Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and a friend Belle (Cynthia Erivo), after Amanda (Carrie Coon) declines, to pull off Harry’s final job.
Reminiscent of F Gary Gray classic Set It Off, the women are all dealing with real issues like debt, childcare, work, and relationships, which all threaten to hamper their heist.
Rodriguez is cast against type as a mum and timid dress-shop owner, while model-esque Debicki plays abused-wife Alice, who has spent most of her life depending on her looks. In one chilling scene, her mother convinces her to sign up with a ‘sugar daddy’ dating site to find someone to look after her.
Daniel Kaluuya stars as Jamal’s menacing brother Jatemme and haunts the widows every move as they plan their unlikely heist.
The women are unsure at first but Viola insists her plan will work as, “the best thing we have going for us is being who we are... no one thinks we have the balls to pull this off”.
Davis is outstanding as the actress expresses grief, vulnerability and affection in a rare love scene for the Oscar winner.
The beautifully shot film takes a circuitous route to the main event, drawing out the tension as Jamal and Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) spar for political control of the 15th Ward in Chicago, an area previously held by family including Mulligan’s father (Robert Duvall) for generations.
In one memorable shot, Jack drives in real time from the slums to his imposing mansion just blocks away, with the camera focus on the outside of the car showing how wealth and poverty live side by side.
However, the heart-pounding heist is worth the wait as the women finally come together for the main event, looking every inch the crack heist team.
McQueen brings a real arthouse sensibility to the studio heist movie, with intriguing twists, arty shots, and punchy dialogue. He definitely leaves you wanting to spend even more time with the characters.
Davis delivers in a standout role which is rightly gaining Oscar buzz.
And a special mention to Viola’s onscreen dog who, as well as being gorgeous, plays a pivotal part in some key scenes.
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