REVIEW: Widows is Truly a Diverse, Emotional and Realistic Film
Steve McQueen’s Widows is two hours and ten minutes long, and McQueen doesn’t waste a single second. Astoundingly, this is only McQueen’s fourth feature length film, but he has already become a true auteur. It’s so rare for a director to switch genres so successfully like he has from Hunger to Shame to 12 Years A Slave. His most recent film, Widows, stars Viola Davis as Veronica Rawlins whose husband Harry (Liam Neeson) dies while robbing the wrong the people along with his four men. After his death, the people Harry robbed goes to Veronica demanding she pay for the damages. Realizing that she’s not the only one in danger, Veronica gets together the others widows who lost their husband on the job too. Together with them, they plan to carry out Harry’s next job.
Widows has so many things going on, yet it never suffocates the audience. On the contrary, it portrays our daily lives more realistically, with the many problems and issues we face all at the same time. The film deals with loss, crime, death, murder, police brutality, violence against women, racism, governmental power, white power and most important of all: women. We finally get an action film, where the women aren’t side characters or damsels in distress. There isn’t any fake strength, physical or mental given to women. Each character has their own problems and their own grievances, which represent so many real women. Michelle Rodriguez portrays one of the widows, who despite protesting against her husband’s illegal activities, she gets blamed for his death by her mother-in-law during his wake. She doesn’t cry, she doesn’t shout, instead she does what so many women do and puts up with it because she has her kids and guests and she has her duties, even when she loses the love of her life. Each character is so exquisitely written, that they all have their own unique characteristics, yet they inevitably share the same fate. We watch Veronica, who only spends a couple of minutes crying in agony while getting ready for her husband’s funeral and Davis seriously deserves all the awards just for those couple of minutes. And we only understand the full extent of her loss, later on in the film but everything connects immediately thanks to those impactful couple of minutes.
Even though we only get to see a glimpse of all the widow’s lives with their husbands, this glimpse is more than enough to tell us about their lives and relationships. We see a woman who tries so hard to run a legit store in comparison to her criminal husband, while raising her two kids. We have another woman who receives abuse from her husband, who shows literally no remorse for his violence. But most importantly, we see Veronica and Harry’s relationship. The importance of their on-screen relationship is explained by Davis in a recent interview: ‘Here I am, I’m dark, I’m 53, I’m in my natural hair and I’m with Liam Neeson, I’m with what America would consider to be a hunk. And he’s not my slave owner, I’m not a prostitute, it’s not trying to make any social or political statements. We simply are a couple in love…And I’ve never seen it before’. And she’s absolutely correct. It’s so rare to see a dark black woman in a relationship with a white man in Hollywood films. The film isn’t about race and nor is it about politics. It’s a thriller, where the lead character is a Black woman married to a white man. The film’s sole focus isn’t on race just because there’s an interracial couple. However, the film also doesn’t ignore it completely. Widows balances all these so well, while delivering an action film. And Davis is right, it’s so rare to see this diversity in Hollywood and this proves the importance of diversity on and off screen and writers McQueen and Gillian Flynn are a perfect duo.
The character developments, whether big or small are so important. We see a group of women who grow with each other while dealing with personal problems. The film doesn’t fantasize female friendship, instead it focuses on realism. McQueen takes his time with each character, showing us their personal moments and achievements. Naturally Veronica takes more of the screen-time as the leader, but the film still has time to give the other female characters their due. It’s especially nice to see Rodriguez to return to a film like this, where she can show off her skills easily. Elizabeth Dubicki is equally brilliant as Alice, who manages to stand out. In addition to these actresses, we have Cynthia Erivo who joins as Belle, who literally works non-stop. We watch as Belle, having to earn money, leaves her own daughter with her mother to baby sit other people’s kids. We witness as Belle works at a hair salon during the day and as she literally runs to her babysitting job at night. What will surprise the audience the most is the normality of the female characters. We watch as Veronica mourns and tries to live her life normally after Harry’s death, but what we don’t know is Veronica’s loss if greater than Harry. If a male character in another Hollywood film had suffered the same tragedies as Veronica did, he would immediately be an alcoholic, hating and despising the world, not able to function properly. When we watch male characters, especially in Hollywood action films, we can immediately tell if a male character has suffered loss and pain because it’s shown to us, so that we feel sorry for his character and it’s used as an excuse to pardon him from the bad things that he does in film. It’s so hard to remember this typical character being portrayed by a woman in films. Widows doesn’t go down this path with any of its female characters. Instead we are given the reality of these women who have to keep on living their lives despite their loss.
The film creates a beautiful connection between these diverse women, not by their choice but by the choice of the men in their life. Their husbands are their only connection to each other and only after their death do they finally connect with each other. They’re also in this mess because of the men in their lives and more chaos follows them because of other men. Ironically their enemies aren’t the evilest characters in the film. Veronica’s husband stole from brothers Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry) and Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) who needed that money to finance Jamal’s mayoral campaign. Even though they are feared by everyone, they’re not the only corrupt men in the film. Their rival competition is Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) whose family has been voted as the mayor of the South side precinct for decades and him nor his dad are ready to give up their lavish lifestyle and privileges to a Black man. The male casts also do an amazing job and Kaluuya shines incredibly through the cast, as a calm yet deadly right-hand man. From the first scene to the last, Jatemme is the only character that makes the film fun to watch. His aura and his methods are ruthless, yet we want to see more of him. Another character that stood out was Veronica’s driver Bash (Garret Dillahunt). The performance by Dillahunt is great, but it’s not the performance that stood out, it’s the character itself. Bash in Widows is the perfect example of the female characters we usually get films. His character is interesting, and we get to like him, but we know absolutely nothing about him. This is how typical female characters in Hollywood films are written. They are given 15-20 minutes screen-time, but we don’t know their past or present. All we get is a character that serves the plot and Bash is that character. Widows takes this character and flips the gender, which is really rare.
It’s easy to say that never has a heist film been so emotional, diverse and realistic.