TIFF 2018: Widows
Viola Davis is impeccable in this high-stakes heist thriller from 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen
An impressive ensemble cast unite to pull off a high-stakes heist in the polished and assured Widows, the latest from director Steve McQueen. Adapted from a Lynda La Plante novel of the same name, Widows centres on Veronica Rawlins, played by an impeccable Viola Davis. She leads a group of wives mourning the recent deaths of their husbands, all professional criminals who were killed during a complicated job. This fatal robbery leaves the women under threat from Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), a city councillor candidate for a local Chicago neighbourhood, who had his own interests and finances compromised by their husbands’ actions. Manning gives Veronica one month to earn back his lost $2 million or else, and she begins recruiting her team to clean up the mess their partners left behind.
The narrative is well-rounded and layered, as politics and family legacy become tangled with the crime landscape of the South Side. Veronica’s husband Harry (Liam Neeson) was a mobster well-connected to the city’s political elite, including Manning’s election rival Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), who attends Harry’s funeral and expresses his condolences to Veronica. He looks set to beat Manning, following in the footsteps of his father (Robert Duvall), and furthering the Mulligan influence in Chicago. The multiple strands of narrative create space for a subtle yet vital commentary throughout the film, one that has a keen awareness for issues of poverty, crime, social housing, economics and racism in the contemporary city. There is still plenty of room for a thrilling action plot, and McQueen strikes a killer balance with a punchy and satisfying story.
Elizabeth Debicki and Daniel Kaluuya stand out in the supporting cast, both for their wit and sharp tongues in two very different roles. Debicki is Alice, who's freed from an abusive husband and hitting her stride as part of Veronica’s gang. Kaluuya, as Manning’s brother and accomplice, is unpredictable and incredibly unsettling, stoic and cruel to all those who get in his way. Farrell and Duvall as the two Mulligans share a toxic, childish rivalry that both actors capture with effective, nasty sneers. Widows, with a screenplay co-written by Gillian Flynn, delivers such rich characters and an intensely crafted structure that there are no real weak links. McQueen and longtime collaborator Sean Bobbitt frame these characters on screen elegantly and inventively, and the film is as enthralling visually as it is narratively.
Widows is hugely impressive, engaging and slick in a way that maintains McQueen's signature mature style without getting caught up in a tired, crime caper tradition. It interrogates the workings of grief and trauma as well as the corruption of institutions, be it political or familial, exposing the enduring frailties of the people and systems we should be able to trust the most.
Widows had its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival and is released in the UK 6 Nov by 20th Century Fox. For more of our TIFF coverage, head to theskinny.co.uk/festivals/international-festivals
Follow Caitlin Quinlan on Twitter at @csaquinlan