When thinking about the heist genre in cinema, it instantly brings to mind films like Michael Mann’s Heat, Spike Lee’s Inside Man, and Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. All great films which took their own spin upon their tales of cops and robbers but with one common link, they follow groups of men and the power struggles they experience whilst planning the perfect robbery. There are examples which break this rule, Arthur Penn’s 1967 rendition of bonnie and Clyde and Harmony Korine’s audacious 2012 entry into the genre Spring Breakers both coming to mind. Now Steve McQueen, with the help of Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn as screenwriter, has perfected this underrepresented form of heist film in his adaptation of Lynda La Plante’s 1983 novel Widows.
The story follows the wives of four bank robbers who die in a job gone wrong, that find themselves having to enter their husband’s line of work. This storyline playing out alongside a brutal political race between two candidates compete for the same ward, one from a dynasty and the other a minority candidate keen to make his mark on his Chicago. The storytelling is smooth and very efficient, never reaching points of convolution as these two stories intertwine in a series of surprising coincidences. This is largely in part due to McQueen’s focus upon visual storytelling in place of potentially clunky exposition. In the film’s opening we are introduced to the characters Veronica and Harry Rawlings as they go through their morning routine, intercut with visceral scenes of the escape from the job gone wrong. In this brief introduction we get a perfect idea of their co-dependency, the levels of intensity to expect from later parts of the film, split with short snippets of the other couples and their basic characteristics. These initial impressions hit hard and leave room for some well-judged character development later in the film. There’s a real fluidity to this section of the film that you expect to dissipate when the film enters political subject matter, yet somehow it never does. A lot of the credit for this should go to Joe Walker’s immaculate editing, as the film flows seamlessly throughout its two-hour runtime. Leading to a film that feels at most half its length.
The technical achievements would not be worth mentioning were the performances not of a high quality, a problem which can be quite commonly found in ensemble films. But this is not a problem that Widows suffers, each cast member bringing consistently strong performances. The titular widows played by Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Elizabeth Debicki’s relationship as the film progresses feels believable and creates a strong emotional connection to the film. Emotional vulnerability is a major theme within Widows, with Sean Bobbit’s camera lingering on moments of tenderness among the carnage presenting a sentimentality not often seen in the genre. If there is any criticism to make of the film, it’s that a leap of faith is required when it comes to one of the film’s later twists (of which there are many). But, the payoff from the reveal takes the film to some truly fascinating places, culminating in a final sequence that was all anyone could discuss upon leaving the cinema.
Widows is surely going to dominate next year’s award season, and frankly rightly so. This may well be 2018’s best film so far, it takes one of the most beloved genres in modern cinema subverting tropes and presenting us with a completely different view of it. Even if crime films aren’t your normal preference there will be something you’ll enjoy in Widows.