WIDOWS – Review by Marietta Steinhart

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Steve McQueen has created masterful dramas about men and their torment. Gillian Flynn is notorious for her compelling thrillers about traumatized women. Together they’ve made a smart heist movie with a feminist twist. Last year, Widows, was one of the most intriguing films with and about women.

We meet Harry (Liam Neeson) and his crew (Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Coburn Goss) as they go up in flames after a robbery gone wrong. What matters to McQueen and Flynn is not the dead men but the women they leave behind. The widows, who lend the film its name, find themselves mourning and stranded. Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) can’t keep her thrift store running without paying off her husband’s debt; Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), an abused blonde immigrant, takes up high-end prostitution; and grief struck Veronica (Viola Davis, who burns up the screen just like she did in Fences), a retired teacher, becomes the target of the Chicago hustler-turned-politician, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) and his henchman (Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out). They were the objects of Harry’s last heist, and now they want their money back. The women have little choice other than to finish what their husbands started. Another widow (Carrie Coon) wants nothing to do with the bunch. British actress and singer Cynthia Erivo (the most marvelous thing in last year’s Bad Times at the El Royale) as Belle, a single mother, completes the ensemble.

Working with co-writer Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl and Sharp Objects, British Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen, whose films have dealt with hunger strikes (Hunger), sex addiction (Shame) and slavery (12 Years a Slave), explores a landscape of interracial marriage, institutional racism, sexism and corruption. In other words, this is not Ocean’s 8 with a “gender-swap”. Widows mixes up a male dominated genre with real women, and it doesn’t collapse under the weight of its premise. It’s funny, too, and Hans Zimmer doesn’t clutter it up with orchestrated music. It’s a low-key score that feels intimate.

There’s a subplot including Colin Farrell as a shady politician and son of an even shadier father (Robert Duvall), whose family has had power over a black district in Chicago for decades. There is also a story of deep pain and self-empowerment. Viola Davis is a woman who never saw her husband as who he really was. But she is awake now, her eyes are wide open, and she is livid. The best thing these women have going for them? “No one thinks we have the balls to pull this off”, she says.

Angry women are currently up and coming in Hollywood. In the context of equal rights, this means that stories about determined wives are just as important as the stories about their difficult men.

ABOUT MARIETTA STEINHART: Born and raised in Vienna, Marietta Steinhart is a New York City based film critic, contributing to Zeit Online, among other media, covering US cinema and TV. She’s an esteemed member of The International Federation of Film Critics and a frequent juror in Film Festivals.

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