TIFF 2018: Steve McQueen's Chicago Heist Thriller 'Widows' is Intense
by Alex Billington
September 10, 2018
The opening shots of Widows set a precedent for how intense the film will be. Intimate shots of Viola Davis' character Veronica kissing her husband quickly cut to gunfire and car chase shots as a group of criminals tries to escape. It's extremely intense, and a slap-in-the-face wake up everyone who sits down to watch this outstanding film. Widows is the latest film made by acclaimed Oscar-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen (of Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave) and it's his first "big" film made at a Hollywood studio. Thankfully, McQueen doesn't seem to be phased, maintaining his edge and focus without losing control and being forced to make something a bit more watered down and accessible. This heist thriller is as much about Chicago as it is about the widows of a handful of criminal men, who work together to pull off a heist to clear their debt.
McQueen's Widows runs a total of 128 thrilling minutes and goes down some very dark paths as it follows the innocent women around town. The main character is Veronica, played by Viola Davis, who constantly must explain that she did not know anything about her husband's money or shady dealings. She's pissed off and tired of being treated poorly, and after being threatened, she finds two other widows - Linda played by Michelle Rodriguez, and Alice played by Elizabeth Debicki - and begs them to join her in pulling off one last job. The language is foul, the jobs are dirty, and there's some tricky twists in this that most will not see coming. Which makes for a more engaging, satisfying experience watching this film - the trailers have not done a good job selling what it really is. It's also packed with social and political commentary, worked in carefully through various characters and subplots involving a a local election and various sleazy politicians.
As complex and intelligent as this film is, it's also something completely new from McQueen - there's action set pieces galore, shoot outs, violence, a heist or two. There's even an adorable little dog that Veronica has and brings with her everywhere, and thankfully not only does it never get harmed, but it actually plays a part in the plot. Which is kind of awesome? What impressed me the most about this McQueen film is that he gives us a dark, gritty, complex crime thriller but also maintains his storytelling finesse with something that has layers of meaning and commentary. The intensity is also a consist reminder that McQueen knows how to entertaining us, specifically adult audiences, in that he knows we need something that keeps us awake and engaged and at the edge of our seat. This is a big step up from his past dramas and also a huge step forward.
The most I can say is that Widows is extremely satisfying and worth watching in theaters, not in a cathartic "they fucked them over" way, and not in an Ocean's Eleven "look at how they pulled off that heist" way, but in a "now this is a damn good film" way. This isn't McQueen making another small, intimate drama that was independently financed, this is him making a big Heat-esque studio movie that is just as awesome and just as visceral as all of his films. And it's satisfying to watch all of these characters, good and bad, get tangled up in this sticky situation in Chicago. It's also thrilling to see a film that takes a different route to tell a story about the wives, the women who were not the criminals, becoming criminals because it's their only way out - the only way forward, and the only way to survive unscathed. Take this walk with them, then watch & learn.
Alex's TIFF 2018 Rating: 9 out of 10
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