In Widows critically acclaimed British director Steve McQueen (Shame, 12 Years A Slave) takes on the heist genre with fantastic results. It is an accomplished film in which everything is as you would want it to be and more. Based on an early 80s British TV series written by Lynda La Plante for ITV, McQueen’s hotly anticipated fourth feature is a ballsy and unabashedly mainstream crime caper which might surprise those who are more attuned to his earlier and more socially engaged output, but which is nevertheless one of most gripping and beautifully acted films of the year so far.
Left with nowhere to turn to after the violent death of her husband Harry (Liam Neeson) in a deadly failed robbery, Veronica (Viola Davis) finds herself at the mercy of ruthless criminal Jatemme Manning (Daniel Kaluuya) who will stop at nothing to recover the money stolen by Harry and his associates. Money which was intended to help fund his politician brother Jamal’s hotly contested election against Jack Mulligan, a deeply corrupt opponent (played impeccably by Colin Farrell).
Enlisting the help of Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), two of the other widows, Veronica decides to play Harry at his own game by planning an even bigger heist in which she plans to steal $5 million in order to pay back her debts to the Mannings and help keep the other women safe. Soon the group get more than they bargained for when they are caught between the Mannings and the Mulligans as they battle it out behind doors and in front of the press.
Offering Veronica as a level-headed, honest yet deeply calculating character, Viola Davis is as outstanding as ever in a role which she carries with grace and unequaled class. Never straying too far from important race discourse, we are made aware from the offset that as a former teacher, Veronica has had to give up her own reputation for a man who exposed her to a life of crime.
Elsewhere Michelle Rodriguez gives yet another brilliant performance, while Elizabeth Debicki brings a great deal of playfulness and innocence to a part which she carries with more gravitas than expected. Offering Jatemme Manning as a sociopathic killer from the offset in a scene which sees him liquidate two associates in cold blood, Kaluuya in able to put in yet another brilliant performance which proves again that he is one of the most versatile performers of his generation.
Changing gears from the socially aware and deeply introspective narratives which we saw in films such as 12 Years A Slave, Hunger and Shame, McQueen proves yet again that he is no one-trick pony. And while many will perhaps find the whole thing a little contrived or maybe too predictable in parts, Widows remains exactly the kind of film one would expect McQueen to make at his stage of his directing career. A ballsy and ambitious endeavour which has more than paid off.
The 62nd BFI London Film Festival runs from 10 – 21 October. Tickets available now from www.bfi.org.uk/lff