Directed by: Steve McQueen
Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Colin Farrell
Back in 2011, I was a runner in a post-production house in London. At the same time, an up and coming director had finished filming his second feature film and was deep into the sound mix. This man would go on to win an Oscar and become one of the most wanted directors in the industry. His name was Steve McQueen.
He was just finishing Shame, his second link up with Michael Fassbender. (The first being ‘Hunger’). Steve was nice enough to answer all my questions. He enjoyed Nandos most days (he likes his chicken dry with no spices if you were wondering) and most importantly he was polite to the runners (many directors were not). It’s fantastic to see him doing so well. After the success of 12 Years a Slave it seems he has the pick of any actors or project he wishes. Fast forward to 2018 and his new film Widows opens the London Film Festival, a great honour for any British director.
Based on a British TV series from the 80s and popular book, Widows has been relocated to Chicago from London. Viola Davis plays Veronica, a recent widowed wife whose thief husband (Liam Neeson) died with his gang in their latest heist. After being threatened by a local gangster, the wives take on their husbands debts.
McQueen’s latest feels like his least personal project but also his most ambitious. It has given him the chance to try something different and use all his tricks that he has learnt from his previous films. When Widows is at its best it really does soar. The all-star cast elevates it and the smartly written script really cements it as a solid film. McQueen’s control shines through, a man so comfortable and confident in his abilities as a director.
The film starts with a bang and the tone is set. The pacing rarely lets up and that is mostly down to the cast. Coming off the back of an Oscar win for Fences, Viola Davis once again delivers a performance which she has come to be known for. The backbone she gives Veronica is also the backbone to the film; strong and unwavering. She also has eyes of steel which are so intense. Out of a cast of so many it is always hard to mention just a few. Daniel Kaluuya is truly menacing as Jatemme Manning (the brother to Brian Tyree Henry’s Jamal Manning). He surely is the best Britain has to offer at the moment. Elizabeth Debicki offers some laughs as Alice, a fellow widow. She clearly is having fun in the role.
The director of photography Sean Bobbitt work also stands out, the camera work is exciting and ambitious. Some of the shots are inventive, in particular a scene which involves Colin Farrell having a very heated discussion in his car. The editing is also smooth which helps with the pacing and some of the music and song choices are very clever.
What Widows does well, is overshadow the very few flaws it has. Some of the characters aren’t really all there, I know the original husbands aren’t really it in but a bit depth to their backgrounds would have helped (Jon Bernthal is once again under used). Also, dare I say it, but some of the twists and shocks were a little predictable.
This is a fine piece of cinema where a great director has assembled a stunning cast who all contribute. There are no weak links. Widows is a character-driven heist film, not the other way around (the heist comes second). That doesn’t stop it being exciting, it’s very brutal and feels uncomfortably real for its entire runtime.