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Steve McQueen and a phenomenal ensemble cast help make “Widows” look effortless

It shouldn’t seem this easy. To make a popcorn heist movie that also has something to say about society…that’s a thin line to walk. Luckily, filmmaker Steve McQueen is one of the best out there, and for Widows, which opens this week, he has assembled one of the year’s best casts. They all combine to make this a masterclass in how to tell this sort of a story. It may not be quite on the level of some of the other Academy Award contenders (more on that in a bit), but it’s so rock solid, it could well end up a player during the awards season. More than that, it happens to be one of 2018’s most satisfying flicks.

The film is a crime drama, centered around four women who have to come together when their husbands are killed. Complicating matters is that the men were criminals and died during a heist. This job gone wrong has cost someone millions of dollars, and they want to collect. So, the responsibility comes down to Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis), still mourning the loss of her husband Harry (Liam Neeson). As she thinks back on their complicated relationship, Veronica reaches out to Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), and Amanda (Carrie Coon). Linda and Alice reach back out and soon, they’re actually planning the next heist their husbands had in mind, all in the name of paying a debt. Before long, a friend in Belle (Cynthia Erivo) joins, making for a foursome. At the same time, these plans dovetail with a local Chicago Alderman election between Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), son of the current position holder Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall), and Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who has an interest in Veronica, one that sees him dispatch his violent brother Jatemme Manning (Daniel Kaluuya) to keep tabs on. It all ends in violence, though not in the ways you’d expect. McQueen co-writes this adaptation with Gillian Flynn and directs, while the supporting cast includes Jon Bernthal, Garret Dillahunt, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Lukas Haas, Kevin J. O’Connor, Matt Walsh, and Jacki Weaver, among others. Hans Zimmer composed the score, while the cinematography is provided by Sean Bobbitt.

McQueen and Davis are forces here, with Debicki giving a supporting turn of tremendous note. Everyone gets a moment to shine here too, which actually leads to one of the few quibbles that I have with it. There’s so much going on, it feels like certain subplots and characters are kicked to the curb too quickly in the third act. I easily could have watched the film for another half hour if it had given a bit more focus to the election, Veronica’s grief, and what each character has planned moving forward. Either that or a slightly tighter pacing, to move things along. Small complaints, no doubt, but it’s why this can’t quite crack my top ten list for the year.

Thinking about potential Oscar attention, Widows may just be too cool for school. Despite that, 20th Century Fox should 100% launch a thorough campaign. Efforts in Best Picture, Best Director (for McQueen), Best Actress (for Davis), Best Supporting Actor (for Farrell and/or Kaluuya), Best Supporting Actress (for Debicki and/or Rodriguez), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Flynn and McQueen), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score are worth putting out there. The odds do favor a shut out, just because of the nature of this particular beast, but you need to make a shot in order to have a chance at scoring.

Widows is going to become a lot of folks’ favorite film of the year. It has the power to evoke that sort of a response. If I fall short of that, it’s not a statement about a lack of quality. This movie is tremendously good. With a tighter focus, or a longer length that would have let it go down more of its side road musings, it could have been a masterpiece. Still, this is one of the more effective flicks of 2018, no doubt about that. It’s well worth seeing, so give it a shot ASAP. You’ll be glad that you did…

Be sure to check out Widows, in theaters everywhere this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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