Steve McQueen (not that one)’s newest release is a heist movie for the ages.
Every now and again there are films released that seem almost destined from the off to be significant. It’s a phenomenon that mostly gravitates around certain directors: Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan and David Fincher are examples.
The most recent addition to that list is Steve McQueen, whose body of work to date has been nothing short of excellent, and has now put together a heist movie with Gillian Flynn, the writer of Gone Girl, and a Who’s Who of great acting talent.
There’s something about a heist movie that is very hard to get wrong. Like sports films or rom-coms, there are well established elements that remain constant throughout the genre; the teaming up of disparate characters, the carefully elaborated scheme, the flaw in the plan and the ticking clock against which all things run.
All of this and more is present in Widows, as the women who are left to deal with the deaths of their criminal husbands are forced to come together to clear each husband’s debt.
As with any heist film, Widows has a large number of moving parts and characters with different motives and actions. Many films struggle to get all of these different elements under control, and this film certainly takes McQueen out of his comfort zone by pulling the focus from a sole protagonist – see Hunger, Shame and 12 Years a Slave – to give time to a diverse ensemble of characters.
Thankfully McQueen’s direction, and his and Flynn’s script, somehow manages to find a perfect balance for each character, deftly avoiding the pitfall of leaving any character feel underdeveloped or neglected. While everyone is giving some great performances here, the absolute highpoint is Daniel Kaluuya: he’s rarely on screen for more than a few minutes at a time, but his intimidating presence can be felt from the start. Don’t be surprised if his name is being thrown around come award nomination time.
Of course this is a heist movie, and when you get the woman who wrote Gone Girl on as co-writer there are bound to be a few twists and shocks along the way. Widows does not disappoint in that department, and the story is absolutely crackling with tension, thrills and shocks, not to mention some dialogue that would make Malcolm Tucker blush.
The stars seem to have aligned here, and they’ve only managed to get Viola Davis to head the majority of the movie. True to form, she is absolutely fantastic, and completely convinces both as someone grieving the loss of their loved one, and as someone taking their first steps into a life of crime.
When depicting novices getting into an elaborate heist, there’s often an issue with filmmakers missing the lack of experience and instead appearing hyper-competent at the job. Any concern of Widows following this trend are happily unfounded, and every single person involved in the operation feels like they’ve never so much as shoplifted before, let alone steal a small fortune.
The entire film is a joy to watch – and stunningly beautiful at that – given the lengthy running time that’s no mean feat. The film moves at a blinding pace despite its length, and while there’s plenty of room for the film to breathe and allow its characters some development, Widows is designed solely to leave audiences breathless.
In short, Widows is a hit; from the beautifully measured direction to the grimy beauty of Chicago and a cast at the top of its game. I’d be confident to say that this is a film that will be watched over and over again. It’s a movie I already feel is worthy of being called a modern classic.