Heist movies have generally fallen into two categories—the Ocean’s Eleven variety, where nearly everything, from planning to execution, is a crackling delight; or the type of movie where everything falls apart after the heist is pulled off.
Director Steve McQueen, with his movie Widows, has MANY other things on his mind. In this case, everything falls apart before the heist ever comes into play—Viola Davis plays a woman whose criminal husband is killed along with his cohorts while pulling off a major job. Unfortunately, the money her husband stole was also lost, and the man her husband stole from tells her she has one month to come up with it, or else. Davis comes into possession of her husband’s plans for one last score, and she decides this is really the only way she’s going to find the necessary money. And, because she knows the wives of her husband’s dead associates are likely to be in the same position, she enlists their help.
But very little of the movie actually deals with the heist itself. Instead, McQueen tells a dark and messy story involving American gun culture, the grime and muck of local politics, racial tensions, and a failed system, all while also dealing with Davis trying to figure out just what she’s doing despite intense personal pain and grief.
And then, add on top of all of this the fact that the overarching dynamic of the film is how much each of these women has been controlled and abused by the men in their lives, even after those men are no longer physically present.
It’s all a lot to take in, and in the hands of a lesser director, Widows might have been nearly incomprehensible. With McQueen at the helm, and Davis in the lead, what we get is very weighty — though, I think, sometimes intentionally frustrating. I’m not convinced that McQueen’s successful at every single thing he tries to address, but I give him credit for his ambition, and for showing us a very different version of a movie we think we know.