One of the highlights of the Mill Valley Film Festival 2018, and a sure-to-be-hit of the upcoming movie season – as in race for the Oscars – is “Widows,” a heist suspense movie starring Viola Davis. In fact, to leave this just at a description as “suspense” is an understatement. This is better described as a palm sweating, edge-of-your-seat, entertaining thriller that you will probably view more than once. Although many movies of the genre can tend to be fun, but unexceptional, what sets “Widows” apart from its predecessors is its unique script, a fantastic ensemble cast, with a badass group of women at its core, and all headed up by critically acclaimed director, Steve McQueen (“Hunger” and “12 Years a Slave”). None would have suspected McQueen’s follow-up to his Academy Award “Best Picture” winning 2013 drama “12 Years a Slave” would have been a contemporary heist, but then again no one should associate McQueen with predictability. He is a visionary, and he clearly has no intentions of being boxed into anyone’s expectations but his own. Like “12 Years,” this movie is adapted from a book. McQueen collaborated with Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl” and “Sharper Objects”) to breathe new life into Lynda La Plante’s British novel of the same name.
Audiences are launched into the film with a bang, as multiple characters are in the midst of a high-stakes robbery, with Harry Rawlings, played by the formidable Liam Neeson at the helm. Set in Chicago and while implementing a two million dollar job with his team, things take a literally explosive and tragic turn, leaving all involved dead. Harry is survived by his wife Veronica (Viola Davis), and by all accounts as seen in numerous flashback scenes, they had been very much in love despite their many years together and having suffered an earlier loss of their teen son. It also seems evident early on that Veronica had been unaware of Harry’s life of crime. Soon after his death, though, she is faced with Harry’s sordid past and pressed to make good on his debts. Reeling from her loss while seeing no way to accumulate the necessary funds in the short time given, she devices a heist plan of her own and enlists (or pressures) the other women who also lost their spouses in the earlier ill fated robbery. Reluctant though they may be, the group, made up of Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Carrie Coon, attempt to pull off their late husband’s last planned score. Along the way, thugs are unleashed and dirty politicians uncovered, while issues of race, gender and social injustice are integrated. Lending to the film’s atmosphere and rounding out the core cast, is an equally impressive supporting cast including Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Cynthia Erivo and Robert Duvall.
Warning: If you’re expecting some glossy transition of the band of merry widows, from hating each other, being down and out and looking and dressing a certain way, to love and roses, with all forgiven and sleek fashion at the forefront, you’ll be disappointed. This is not “The Devil Wears Prada” or “Oceans 8”. This is raw, gritty, at times violent, and welcomingly complex. Strap in this holiday season and enjoy the ride.