Movie Review – Widows (2018)
Steve McQueen is the filmmaker behind 12 Years a Slave (2013), which won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, making McQueen the first black person to win in that category. His follow-up is an adaptation of a 1983 British series that came out when he was 13 and he watched as a fan. Helping him to compress the six-episode series that was five-hours long down to just two hours is Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl (2014). Examining the film, it’s clear to see McQueen’s guiding hand, as a man who stands for social justice and racial justice, as well as his penchant for long, one-takes. Yet, it’s also interesting to see Flynn’s influence at work here too.
Gone Girl was supposed to be a deconstruction of marriage, a husband losing his wife and realizing she wasn’t what he thought. In this movie, Flynn is able to turn the tables and have a wife lose her husband, only to realize he wasn’t what she thought. In each case, a pretty picture of marriage is never painted. It’s a little bit more complicated here because there are three marriages, which are briefly depicted, probably too briefly, but only one is the real focus. Like in Gone Girl, there is an illusion of a pretty picture in that one marriage. That illusion, however, is ultimately shattered, as this film fulfills the threat in the 2014 hit film of the married couple trying to kill each other. It just seems like Flynn doesn’t think too highly of the institution of holy matrimony.
However, the movie has four women, three of whom are married. Six episodes, therefore, would be enough to explore and dig into those marriages. Even if it weren’t enough time, the series allows those relationships to breathe. This movie though doesn’t have enough time or it doesn’t make the time for that kind of breath. It could instead be about the loss of those relationships and how the women form new ones with each other. There is leg room here for that, but the movie takes detours that might ultimately be distractions. Those detours might be flashes in the pan to juice up or excite things, but ultimately those things distract.
Viola Davis (Fences and The Help) stars as Veronica Rawlings, a woman who represents the teachers’ union in Chicago. She lives a pretty wealthy life in a wealthy neighborhood thanks to the fact that her husband is a criminal. Her husband’s last job was robbing a powerful, local drug gang of $2 million. However, the leader of that gang goes to Veronica, demanding that she pays him back in one month or she’s dead. Her grief is pushed aside as she becomes a strong schemer willing to commit robbery herself in order to survive, so she gathers together a team of women whose husbands were criminals who died too. She pushes them to work together to avoid getting killed by the gangster.
Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta and Hotel Artemis) co-stars as Jamal Manning, the leader of the drug gang or in general the crime boss with the most stature, at least in one particular area, namely the 18th Ward of Chicago. He’s effectively creepy and menacing, as well as the kind of scary political animal who’s ruthless and greedy. His brother is Jatemme, played by Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out and Black Panther), and Jatemme is the brutal psychopath who does most of Jamal’s dirty work.
Unfortunately, the film spends an inordinate amount of time proving how brutal and psychotic Jatemme is. There are three scenes in fact, one in a gymnasium, one in a bowling alley and one in an apartment where we see Jatemme torture and murder people, long extended scenes of him torturing and murdering. These scenes are thrilling, but they go on for too long and display a level of violence that is unnecessary and distracts from further developing the women.
Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and The Night Manager) co-stars as Alice and Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious and Lost) also co-stars as Linda. We get glimpses into their domesticities and their ruined lives left in the wake of their husband’s deaths. Both actresses make those glimpses feel more than just glimpses, but still they feel not as developed as they could have been. The question of how much about their husband’s criminality did the women know prior to their deaths is never really answered either.
Colin Farrell (Minority Report and Total Recall) plays Jack Mulligan, a wealthy politician running for office as Alderman in the aforementioned, 18th Ward, which is a predominantly black neighborhood. Jack is white and through him the film exposes literal racism in politics. For example, Jack’s father is an old-school bigot named Tom, played by Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies and The Godfather). The various scenes involving the Mulligans are interesting, but within the context of this narrative, again they feel like distractions.
The overall, political and racial story would have been better placed if this were a six-episode series. Of course, that kind of context is appreciated in any film, but McQueen doesn’t make it cohere to the main story all that well. Especially, when it comes to the Mulligans, their racial issues feel clunkily dropped in, and if nothing else, they again take time away from the women.
The film builds to a heist sequence that wasn’t as satisfying as one would hope. It goes by rather fast. I was underwhelmed to see it over so quickly. The heist is only a few minutes long, which is probably what it would be in reality. In reality, it probably wouldn’t be this long, drawn out thing, but I couldn’t help but feel let down at the end, thinking that it wasn’t enough.
Rated R for violence, language and some sexual content, including nudity.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 9 mins.