Heist movies are male dominated, and don’t let the title fool: Widows is still a lot about men. With such an amazing female cast (led by Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Carrie Coon, and Elizabeth Debicki) and an outstanding script by Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen, there’s a lot to enjoy here, but one is left with the wanting more from the women. More time, more focus.
The basics are in the trailer: Liam Neeson takes some time off from rescuing his kidnapped daughter to run a robbery ring, complete with a boys-only clubhouse in a dank warehouse. They’re killed in the opening sequence by an enthusiastic SWAT team, leaving their respective ladies as widows. Viola’s Veronica Rawlings, caught in genuine grief, is hassled almost immediately by the men who were the target of her husband’s thievery, led by a black man (Jamal Manning, played by Brian Tyree Henry) who is also campaigning against a white man (Jack Mulligan, played by Colin Farrell) for the alderman job in a mostly black ward in Chicago.
Jack’s dad, Tom (Robert Duvall) is only the latest in a long line of Mulligans who’ve held the seat, and it’s clear both sides will do anything to gain (or maintain) the power position. Jamal Manning is joined by his brother, Jatemme (played with calm psychotic ruthlessness by Daniel Kaluuya), and together, they threaten, harass, and bully the widows into performing the next planned job themselves.
In addition to the acting heavyweights in the main cast, Cynthia Erivo’s Belle is a standout as the hairdresser/babysitter/driver who helps out the ladies in their mission, which isn’t revealed until almost heist time and isn’t the biggest twist as the film wraps up. And as stated, this is a heist movie. The usual car chases, beat-down scenes and shady backdoor deals are there, with McQueen’s twist. Notably, near the middle of the film, we witness one scene where the younger Mulligan is being driven from a campaign appearance in the heart of the ward to his own house, right on the edge of the ward boundary and in a much, much nicer neighborhood.
The camera never gets inside the car, instead choosing to show the heated argument between Mulligan and his campaign assistant (Molly Kunz) entirely from the perspective of the windshield, facing backwards, as the car zips quickly from the have nots to the haves. It’s an interesting way of framing the real problem here: this ward has only a rich, corrupt white man and a less rich, perhaps more corrupt black man to choose from. And by the end, you’re left wanting Davis to run and win the ward leadership, and you want to watch a sequel following Rodriguez’s story as a single mom running a dress shop with Erivo swooping in occasionally to save the day, even if it’s just to watch the kids for a few hours while the ladies rob. Because while the guys were frittering away their earnings on gambling, drinking, and other frivolities, the women are the heroes, taking from the rich and corrupt, and doling out real help to their fellow women in the neighborhood.