Widows, co-written and directed by Steve McQueen, is yet another enthralling piece of cinema from a director who is yet to make a bad film. Enveloping an eclectic and uniquely damaged cast of characters in an ever-evolving story that continuously keeps you on your toes; Widows is a film that engages you and challenges you every step of the way. It’s been too long since I’ve had the pleasure to talk about a McQueen film, so let’s be done with this introduction and get to the review, so I can delight in talking about a director I adore.
Following the deaths of their husbands during a robbery gone wrong, four women decide to not let the mistakes and the betrayals of their men hold them down and make the bold decision to complete their final heist and seize the opportunity to forge their own futures.
To say that I’ve been excited about a new Steve McQueen film would be a massive understatement. McQueen is one of those directors whose work I wholly admire and love to get lost in. If ever the question comes my way concerning who some of my favourite directors are, Steve McQueen’s name always appears on that list. For me, he’s a director who pulls no punches. He dives straight into the challenging topic of his film and he never shies away from showing every side to it. Through performances that tear at your emotional centre, or simple but truly effective camera work that has you squirming in your seat as it gracefully drags you through some genuinely distressing moments; Steve McQueen for me is a director who fully takes advantage of the cinematic art-form and utilises it masterfully for telling his stories.
So yes, walking into Widows, I was very excited for the experience I was about to give myself over to. One of the things Widows does that, for me, made it a film I wanted to get lost in, was that it took the aspect of heist films that I enjoy the least and pushed it far away in the back; instead making sure the focus was in what is always the more interesting area of a film to enjoy; the characters and their stories.
There is very little to no significant point where the film dedicates time to the characters sitting around planning the heist. Anytime they are involved in heist prep, it’s less about the prep and more about an opportunity for us to learn more about the character. During these moments, we do still get the necessary information to be kept informed about the heist and its proceedings, but these moments are more a way to explore the psyche of the character – give us greater insight into the personal struggles that define them and that they will hopefully overcome in the process of doing something so dangerous.
That’s one of the most interesting aspects about the heist that the four women are deciding to do; it isn’t just about getting a substantial amount of cash, it’s more about the journey and threat of doing such a thing and how it will change them, how it will help them to overcome their struggles in their personal lives. More than anything, Widows is an excellent character driven drama. And those characters are so rich and diverse that any one of them could easily be the stars of their own individual films. Their stories are an intricate web of tunnels waiting to be explored and the characterisation of them is so well-defined, that you can easily put the focus on just one of them and you’d still have a compelling, meaningful, thoughtful film.
That’s no easy thing to pull off; to balance a range of diverse characters and have them all feel well-developed and that they’re getting their time to shine, but Steve McQueen and his co-writer, Gillian Flynn (whose excellent work you’ll recognise from David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl) effortlessly and brilliantly handle their characters and make sure all of them are given the time to develop and the time to shine.
But for people who are wanting what the trailers seem to promise – a fully realised heist film with all the planning and set-up their accustom too – will more than likely leave disappointed. This film knows the structure of said films and certainly has elements that at times make it feel like one, but Widows takes the structure and the rules, and instead shapes its own type of film, its own type of narrative. It’s unconventional in its execution and the interruption of a rhythm that people are used to will undoubtedly leave some people feeling off-balance, and not feeling like they’re getting what they want from it in a manner that makes sense to them.
But for those who enjoy what they get, and how they get it, there’s plenty to enjoy. I could easily and happily sit here for the rest of the review and breakdown and explore each of the stellar characters on offer in the film. Whether it be the unflinchingly strong Veronica – played by Viola Davis – the brutal and unsettling Jatemme Manning – played by Daniel Kaluuya – or the resiliently empowering Alice – played by Elizabeth Debicki – it’s a list of characters I could easily waffle on about for some time. But I feel that for the sake of your time, I’ll simply just say that this is one of my favourite ensemble casts in a film for quite some time. You have some incredibly deep characters, played by some incredibly talented actors. Anyone who goes into a film wanting character over anything else will not be disappointed with what Widows has to offer.
And with such a focus on character, you may think the plot isn’t that well-developed – that it skimps on the details that make up a full feeling plot, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Widows has a constantly evolving plot. Each scene throws a new wrench into the rhythm of the narrative and its keeps things exciting and unpredictable. There are some reveals that completely reshape the story going forward and leave you to completely re-access all your expectations for what might happen next. It was a plot that always kept me on my toes. I never knew where it might go next and I loved every twist and turn it hurled at me.
It also meant I was utterly gripped for the entirety of the film. Never once did my attention waver from Widows. I was always eager and wanting to see where it might go next or what hurdle might impede a character’s journey, only for them to then side-step it and be faced with something new. You’ll never rest when watching Widows, as you’ll always have something that’s keeping you engaged and excitedly following along.
So, from a narrative standpoint, Widows is a film that will always engage your mind, but I want to end by talking about Steve McQueen as a filmmaker and the effect he’s able to achieve with his style of filming, that goes beyond just involving you emotionally, and instead invests you visually – physically. McQueen is a director who is better than most at being able to have you existing purely in the moment of the scene. He lets his scenes play out; he sets the camera down and he simply let’s life itself happen. There’s nothing flashy, there’s no unnecessary cuts or elaborate movements of the camera. He puts you in the moment with a character(s) and he leaves you all there to experience it. There’s something so effective about what McQueen does here. It draws you in – no matter how intense the moment might be – and he has you (me) feeling more connected and invested than you perhaps might be if the moment was done in a conventional way.
It’s an effect that has your entire body leaning into it and causing every aspect of you to feel included. It’s what makes a McQueen film such a memorable, effecting experience, and It’s why I love his films so much.
But more than just existing in the moment with a McQueen film, there’s also the way in which his camera moves in his films. He moves the camera with such purpose and poise. He is able to communicate incredibly nuanced pieces of information simply with the position or movement of the camera. That’s why both McQueen and Widows are the full package. He is able to use the camera to visually tell his story in such clever ways, while also having an incredibly rich set of characters and an ever-evolving plot that keeps enthralled and needing – wanting – to pay attention.
Widows ended up being everything I wanted and more – particularly from Steve McQueen. He continues to be a director that I simply adore to watch, and I can’t ever see that not being the case. I could continue to gush about Widows, but instead I’ll quit my rambling and just let you get to seeing the film for yourself. So, with that being said…
I ABSOLUTELY recommend, Widows! Widows will surprise you, it will shock you, it will play with your emotions and leave you unable to think about anything else but it. I sincerely hope you enjoy your time with it as much as I did!
As you can imagine, I’d love to know what you thought of Widows, so please sound off in the comments section down below with any feedback, opinions, etc, that you may have. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – far any and all updates on new reviews or a possible new podcast that I’m working on. But I’ll stop asking so much of you now and end by offering you my heartfelt thanks. Thank you for coming to my little slice of the internet and sharing in my love for film. You’re my favourite person!