2018 has been a year of incredible casts, with the likes of Avengers: Infinity War and Ocean’s Eight featuring a who’s who of Hollywood A-listers. Widows boasts a similarly impressive ensemble (Jon Bernthal’s name isn’t on the poster and he’s the goddamn Punisher) with one key difference; Steve McQueen has opted for the best, rather than simply the biggest. The casting of highly underrated performers in supporting roles indicate the filmmaker’s dedication to excellence, with every performance crafting a nuanced character we can invest in. McQueen’s foray into the heist genre is an undeniable success, as he merges the intelligent tendencies of his earlier offerings with crowd-pleasing action; making for a movie that is as entertaining as it is smart. Credit must also go to co-writer Gillian Flynn who is now two-for-two in terms of outstanding scripts, and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt who provides the film with a rich and engaging style, producing shots with unique dynamism and haunting thematic relevance; not to mention a score that represents the iconic Hans Zimmer at his very best. Indeed, the biggest problem with reviewing this film is deciding what to praise first, and how to do it in a way that resembles film-criticism rather than simply gushing. Put simply, Widows is one of this year’s best pictures, an outstanding cinematic achievement that deserves to be lavished with praise and awards in equal measure.
Viola Davis leads the film with a characteristically superb performance, showing all the vitality and hidden vulnerability fans of How to Get Away with Murder have appreciated for years. Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo are similarly excellent in their own way, with each afforded ample screen time to flesh out their motivations, as the film manages to create as many enjoyable and thought-provoking moments in the time leading up to the heist as occur in the event itself. The fast, dangerous feel of the quickly concluded final set piece compared to the thoughtful, well-paced preparation for it creates a grounded and revealing contrast that helps the film feel like a lot more than a flashy robbery. There are no unnecessary scenes here, rather a perfectly executed narrative that delivers a subtle yet powerful feminist message. Each of the characters must overcome the shackles of a patriarchal and uncaring society, with the film’s male politicians being grimly presented as a dual evil, as similar on the inside as they appear on the outside. These characters are appropriately named Manning and Mulligan; the former emphasising masculinity, the later referencing a golfing term for being able to continuously fail without repercussion. They provide a fascinating backdrop that makes our lead character’s worldviews seem entirely reasonable and heightens the audience’s desperate hopes that in executing this plan, these women can move past not just the loss of their husbands but also their dependence on men, growing as a group and individuals in entirely satisfying character arcs.
“It’s the sort of film that really sticks with you, one you can’t stop thinking about”
It is impossible to talk about this film without hailing the performances of Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry who provide some of the movie’s most memorable moments in their depiction of the Manning brothers. Kaluuya is truly phenomenal, captivating through his eyes and body language alone in his portrayal of a dangerous and menacing antagonist. His scenes are unforgettable – true stand-outs that will doubtless be talked about by audiences for years, serving as yet another indicator of the twenty-nine-year-old Oscar nominees’ talent. Atlanta’s Henry is an equally engaging presence as his character offers an insightful commentary on politics and race. His relationship with political rival Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) creates some of the tensest, best-written dialogue in a film jam-packed with tense, well-written dialogue. It is no exaggeration to say a film about this rivalry would have the potential to be just as strong as the one we are treated to, with the legendary Robert Duvall offering yet another first-rate supporting turn as the head of the Mulligan dynasty.
The political subplot reflects the film’s overall commitment to epic twists and turns, with one in particular being a moment capable of dropping any jaw. Such is our attachment to every character that these moments hit with the full-force of a sledge hammer, as we personally share in the triumph and disaster of every moment. It’s the sort of film that really sticks with you, one you can’t stop thinking about – giving it a life far beyond it’s two-hour runtime. Widows is a monumental triumph in every conceivable area, with its greatest success being just how good it feels to spend time with these characters in this world.