Widows review: In his previous three films, Steve McQueen has covered a variety of subject; the true story of Bobby Sands in his jaw-dropping debut Hunger; addiction in his stunning sophomore effort Shame, and then slavery in his Oscar-winning drama 12 Years A Slave. In his fourth film, he switches gear again, turning to the crime genre for a thrilling heist drama, Widows.

Widows review
Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

Widows review [TIFF]

Featuring an ensemble cast, the film is potentially the filmmaker’s most accessible, but it’s best to enter with caution, knowing as little as possible about the plot – so I will tread carefully.

Co-scripted by McQueen and Gone Girl/ Sharp Objects scribe Gillian Flynn, and based on the book by Lynda La Plante, the film begins during the aftermath of a robbery – one that has seemingly gone horribly wrong. McQueen intercuts the action with a backstory involving the film’s three primary male protagonists; Jon Bernthal’s Florek, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Carlos, Coburn Goss’ Jimmy Nunn, and Liam Neeson’s Harry Rawlings. Before the title card, we see all of them killed as the police infiltrate them as they make their final escape.

Their passing sees four central women widowed as a result; Veronica, played by Viola Davis, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Elizabeth Debicki’s Alice, and Belle (Carrie Coon), who find themselves unsupported, without income, and a future that is uncertain. They decide to take their predicament into their hands following the finding of a mysterious notebook owned by one of their criminal other-halves.

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There is so much going on in McQueen’s multi-layered, and hugely enjoyable thriller. There are intimating crooks – Daniel Kaluuya’s Jatemme Manning is absolutely terrifying, as too is his brother Jamel (Brian Tyree Henry), who is standing for local office; shady, but very rich and influential local politicians – Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell, playing father and son councilmen, all inhabiting a local economy that is clearly struggling.

There are twists and surprises around every corner – double-crosses and huge plot twists that provide a story that you never know which direction it’s heading to next. The performances are excellent across the board, but if there was one stand out, it would be Viola Davis’ tortured soul Veronica, the movie’s mastermind, who is mind-blowing from start to finish.

In other hands, Widows could have turned out very differently, but this is a Steve McQueen film, so there is a level of expectation to what you get when you turn up with your playing dollars. As with all of his other films, the viewer isn’t left disappointed as the filmmaker brings together inventive camerawork, frenetic editing, well-honed characters, a truly magnificent screenplay and a flawless cast.

Widows is a true highlight of the year, if not the last few years. It’s truly inventive, utterly engrossing and so rewarding when it finally comes to the time for the credits to roll. Absolutely one of the best films of 2018.

Widows review by Paul Heath, September 2018.

Widows was reviewed at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Click here for all of our coverage.