By Audrey Ruppert
The highly anticipated “Widows” nearly lives up to the hype, but not quite. Packed with a superstar cast - Viola Davis (“The Help”), Liam Neeson (“Taken”), Michelle Rodriguez (“The Fast and the Furious”), Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”), Colin Ferrell (“Miami Vice”) and Elizabeth Debicki (“The Great Gatsby”) - directed by the legendary Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), and written by thriller queen Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”), I’m not sure it was even possible for this film to live up to the hype.
“Widows” tells the story of three women not only widowed by their career-criminal husbands, but left in severe debt by them. Together they team up to commit one last heist in order to settle their husbands’ debs to a crime lord and keep themselves and their families off the hit list.
The script has Gillian Flynn written all over it. As in “Gone Girl,” her most famous work, “Widows” features a completely unforeseen twist that had the entire theater gasping out loud, and centers on the idea that men in relationships are not to be trusted by default and can be incredibly deceitful, hypocritical and selfish (who hurt you, Gillian?). The three female leads are all strong women but in different ways, and they each have different struggles they have to overcome. Viola Davis’ character must overcome grief and betrayal, Michelle Rodriguez’s character must overcome financial ruin and Elisabeth Debicki’s character must overcome physical abuse.
As the title suggests, the film is primarily centered around women, but focuses on their previously (or even currently) dysfunctional relationships with men, and how these women have to clean up the destruction left in their partners’ wakes.
Steve McQueen brings racial tension and social commentary on the corrupt state of American politics to the table. The main protagonist, played by Davis, was in an interracial marriage to Neeson’s character and this dynamic is explored in a lot of detail. The film takes place in Chicago and features two warring politicians, one white and one black, both corrupt - to the point where you have difficulty telling which is meant to be “the bad guy.” Every social side and scene of Chicago is woven together: white, black, Latino, rich, poor, the powerful, the powerless, the innocent and the guilty.
“Widows” certainly keeps you on the edge of your seat and is powerfully present, but for some reason, it doesn’t quite pack the punch I was expecting. The twist, while shocking, wasn’t “Gone Girl” level (although, that’s a high bar), and while social, racial and political issues are heavily featured, the film isn’t in itself meant to be social commentary. While the cast is spectacular, nobody’s performance stood out to me as particularly incredible.
Perhaps so many stars at the table didn’t leave enough room for any one element to shine.
Nonetheless, “Widows” is a thriller absolutely worth seeing, particularly in theaters. Like “Gone Girl,” the film provoked strong audience reactions, and experiencing the film with a group of people (even with strangers) is highly recommended.