Steve McQueen's Widows is effortless, masterful cinema

by James Robins / 29 November, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - WIdows movies

The 12 Years a Slave director turns Lynda La Plante saga Widows into a brilliant thriller.

Two lovers in bed share morning kisses. Thieves flee a hail of bullets. An abused wife nurses a black eye. Kids run rampant in their mother’s shop. Police detonate a getaway van in a vicious fireball.

These are the audacious opening moments of Widows, the first film from British director Steve McQueen since 12 Years a Slave, in 2013. Scenes of ordinary life intercut with high crime are no mere montage, but a skilful introduction to a chronicle of heists and political intrigue.

If the fear was that McQueen, in adapting Lynda La Plante’s 1980s British television series in a co-write with Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, might be turning more conventional, listen to that opening sequence: a lustful growl becomes a gunshot, a child’s scream morphs into a screech of tyres – it’s cinema of effortless mastery.

That explosion consumes a gang of robbers led by Harry (Liam Neeson), their $2 million take with it. They leave behind widows – Harry’s fearsome wife Veronica (Viola Davis), towering siren Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and exasperated striver Linda (Michelle Rodriguez). Before long, the man who was robbed comes to collect. That’s Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), a former crook turned politician who is running for Chicago City Council.

Veronica and her bereaved makeshift team take up their partners’ mantle and complete Harry’s final job.

But these are not the only characters, for Chicago itself plays a big part. McQueen is attuned to settings and environments and how they inform the people who live in them: Veronica’s white-walls-and-glass apartment, Linda’s kitschy ball-gown store of frothy tutus and plastic tiaras, and the slums so near to luxury villas. In one seamless shot, we listen to the scheming of council politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) while the camera roves the cityscape, ghettos giving way to high society within a few blocks. 

McQueen knows pain, too. Hunger (2008) was a tale of torture during Northern Ireland’s Troubles; Shame (2011) a tour of carnal compulsion; 12 Years whipped flesh from bone. Widows, too, has its share of brutality, mostly dealt by Jamal’s brother and enforcer (a menacing Daniel Kaluuya). Though what powers the film is the threat of force, or its echo.

As the target of such force, Davis can play terrified. She can also do furious, indignant and vengeful and is the undisputed star of the film.  

Widows escapes the shackles of genre. It is both a vast panorama of real-world corruption, female indignation and racial animosity and consummately thrilling entertainment. 

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★★

Video: 20th Century Fox

This article was first published in the December 1, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Prepare for a return to the 'old normal' of sharemarket volatility
100287 2018-12-18 00:00:00Z Investment

Prepare for a return to the 'old normal' of sharem…

by Pattrick Smellie

In the decade since the global financial crisis, investors have enjoyed a steady upward ride and very few shocks.

Read more
Is cryptocurrency a haven from market volatility?
100307 2018-12-18 00:00:00Z Investment

Is cryptocurrency a haven from market volatility?

by Nikki Mandow

It’s been a wild ride for cryptocurrencies over the past year, but can they become a stable store of wealth for investors?

Read more
Stop your new build from feeling cookie-cutter with these clever solutions
100101 2018-12-18 00:00:00Z Property

Stop your new build from feeling cookie-cutter wit…

by Noted

Building a new home but want something unique? These creative solutions prove new-builds and personality do go together.

Read more
Dumplings with Wings is the new place to get your dumpling fix
100543 2018-12-17 15:39:32Z Auckland Eats

Dumplings with Wings is the new place to get your …

by Alex Blackwood

Dumplings with Wings' colourful creations take cues from all over the world.

Read more
The Children Act doesn't do justice to Ian McEwan's novel
100520 2018-12-17 11:27:11Z Movies

The Children Act doesn't do justice to Ian McEwan'…

by James Robins

Emma Thompson may be on the bench but legal drama The Children Act is yet another example of the limits of literary adaptation.

Read more
After a testing year, can Simon Bridges survive 2019?
100499 2018-12-17 08:57:04Z Politics

After a testing year, can Simon Bridges survive 20…

by Jane Patterson

Simon Bridges has held on to the National Party leadership as a testing year ends, but how secure is his position? He says he's not worried.

Read more
Capital offences: A grammarian on nouns proper and common
99726 2018-12-17 00:00:00Z Education

Capital offences: A grammarian on nouns proper and…

by Ray Prebble

A look at the nuances of nouns.

Read more
Two small South Island towns' annual clash for the Cup o' Wood
99541 2018-12-17 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Two small South Island towns' annual clash for the…

by Mike White

For 70 years, neighbouring Central Otago villages St Bathans and Becks have taken to the rugby field to battle for the Wooden Cup.

Read more