When a director like Steven McQueen teams with a cast like Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, and Colin Farrell, everyone’s eyes immediately start watching that project, because it’s a powerhouse film in the making. We start to build up the idea of what we’re hoping to see, or what it could be, which is never a good thing, sure, but you still have the hope for something worthwhile to come out of it. Unfortunately, Widows is a case of a film that has all the talent in the world to make a knockout film – – both behind the scenes and in front of the camera – – but none of the drive to get it there. Instead, we’re left with a middling film experience that offers nothing more than a few good performances, but nothing else of substance.
After a heist goes wrong, leaving the husbands and lovers of a group of women who don’t know each other dead, the women’s lives are quickly turned upside down. Seeking retribution for the money stolen from him, a local crime lord puts the pressure on Veronica (Viola Davis) to return the money her husband stole in full. Against the wall and desperate to hang on what she has left, Veronica turns to the widows of the late criminals to plan a heist that would benefit all of them, while putting the past of their lovers behind them.
While that all sounds like it could make for an interesting film, Widows squanders most of its potential by making a film that lacks any sense or urgency, while also trying hard to make a film that is desperately wants to have a social commentary on politics and race relations, but having no real voice to get there. There’s a lot going on without any real sense of why, making the film feel like it’s going through the motions for something we ultimately don’t really care about. The film is set in modern Chicago, and uses a tense political election as the backdrop, but instead of using those things to make a thought provoking film, it seems to want to do the bare minimum of work to make the audience care. Greedy politicians are a dime a dozen in film, and even more so those that lie and cheat groups of people to get their way, so what makes this film’s any different? Really not much of anything, because they don’t try and make it unique. It just feels so paint by numbers approach, it’s incredibly frustrating for the viewer.
It also doesn’t help that the characters just aren’t likable across the board. While Viola Davis gives a great performance, it doesn’t make up for the fact that in a lot of ways Veronica is just not a likable character. The audience is never really given a reason to want to stand behind her, or the rest of the cast for that matter, outside of the fact that they were all in different types of abusive relationships before meeting. But you can’t coast on that alone to make your audience feel for the characters, and every time it feels like it’s going to take a step to make us actually care about these characters, it quickly walks back from it. There’s no real character moments to define them, making it all just feel like a ho hum affair. It doesn’t help that actors like Daniel Kaluuya, Colin Farrell, and Robert DuVall are just wasted, cast because of who they are, not what they can bring to the film. Cynthia
Erivo’s Belle is the closest we get to actually liking a character in the film, and she’s the only one who seems to want to be on this heist for a good reason, to help out a local business owner who has been pushed around by the local politicians. If the film spent more time building these women up to be a modern day Robin Hood equivalents who wanted to do this for the greater good, the film would have at least been more interesting to watch. But every step the film takes works against that idea of making these women vigilant heroes, and maybe that’s the point that these ordinary women are pushed to extreme circumstances to survive. Unfortunately, that narrative just isn’t driven in any way that works for the audience throughout, making the film just feel empty in the end. Why should we care if any of these characters live or die, or get this debt paid off in the end, if the movie never makes a case why we should?
Widows should have been a sure fire success, but instead it just feels like a paint by numbers heist film that wants to be more than it is, but never has anything to say. It’s constantly at war with itself in a way that just leaves you feeling cold when it’s all said and done. While the cast give some truly great performances, it’s all for not if you don’t care about their characters or their plight. Steve McQueen is a great filmmaker, and he’s surrounded himself with a great cast, it’s just too bad the film never lives up to the potential they all collectively share.