Heist Done Right - Widows
This movie has no business being as good as it is. It is a heist thriller with a womanly twist, yes. It would have been that regardless of who was involved. But what Steve McQueen does with that setup shows that he is clearly one of the best filmmakers working today. He elevates the material to a political commentary on race and class while still managing to never feel preachy. The movie has star-power, drama and is about as well put together as anything you’re going to see this year and manages the rare feat of being a blockbuster worthy of critical praise. There truly might be something for everyone here and that is almost never the case.
The movie opens with brilliant shots that establish who our characters are. We see a robbery gone bad, with the men involved, led by Harry Rawlings (played by Liam Neeson), dying in a fiery shootout with the police. As we watch that robbery plan fall apart, we get brief glimpses into the mens’ relationships with their wives, including Harry’s wife, Veronica (played masterfully by Viola Davis). These short scenes do an incredible job of establishing the relationship dynamics for each couple and the underlying character of the widows.
Once the opening scene wraps, we find out it is election season in Chicago and Jack Mulligan (played by Colin Farrell) is looking to inherit his father’s seat against Jamal Manning (played by Bryan Tyree Henry), a Black, up and coming challenger with ties to the crime world. It just so happens that Manning, and his murderous brother, Jatemme (played perfectly by Daniel Kaluuya), are looking for money Harry stole from them in his last job. In order to track the money down, they confront Veronica, who must assemble a team of widows to try and complete the job Harry left plans for and pay back the Mannings before they kill her.
While this summary suffices, it doesn’t reveal just how many layers all of these characters are given. Jamal Manning, for instance, could have easily been a one-note character, but the movie pulls many of its threads about race and class through its portrayal of him as someone looking to escape the life of crime that once came so naturally. The movie does a beautiful job of reinforcing the idea that it is very difficult to choose new paths by placing these characters on rails and watching them struggle to make new ways.
Beyond the themes, however, this movie doesn’t work as well if everyone isn’t bringing their A-game. And while the performances are uniformly good, Viola Davis deserves special notice. She is always superb, but for her to be this good in a performance that didn’t need to be is remarkable. Lending her talents to this is like swatting a fly with a Buick. She is incredible and electric, while embodying the film’s messages. It is also worth noting that she is not a slave or a maid in this modern story and it is wonderful to get to see her gifts used in this way.
As a director, Steve McQueen is as good as it gets. The film is filled with confident choices that are the result of an artist using every available tool to get a point across. The epic tracking shot showing proximity of different classes, for instance, is not done just to show off. It is done to reinforce the central themes of the movie. All of the movie’s most creative shots are used in this way—capturing division, tension and so much more. There’s also just so much story here—so many characters and so many plot lines. Somehow it all just works and Steve McQueenImmediately after, I wondered what McQueen could do with other sub-genres if he could do this with a heist film. Hopefully we get dozens more projects and the opportunity to find out.
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