‘Widows’: a thriller with levels

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

By Brandon Semler

“Widows” (2018) is a fast-paced heist thriller that subverts nearly every aspect of the genre, and also manages to offer a multi-level look at the racial, social, political, financial and gender power struggles and imbalances that shape our world — and the freedom that self-earned power can bring to the human spirit. 

Don’t get me wrong — Steve McQueen’s film does not go out of its way to be heady or grandstanding. These themes are needled in clearly, but subtly. What unfolds on the screen is a thrilling popcorn blockbuster filled with twists and turns and all-star performances from a major league cast. 

The screenplay was penned by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (author/screenwriter of “Gone Girl”). Set in Chicago, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities take fate into their own hands and plan to carry out a job (paraphrased from IMDB).

The film presents a web of stories that are dramatically entangled, floating from one to another and slowly painting a larger portrait of the dangerous world these characters live in.

McQueen uses the camera as a curious observer throughout. From an opening car chase sequence (shot from the perspective of those in the getaway van), to a shot following a vehicle of Tom Mulligan (Colin Farrell), McQueen makes the city a character in this film, one that often tells more than words ever could.

Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) are perhaps the three most compelling characters on screen this year. The three all carry unique pain with them through out the film, though that pain was all a product of the same system, a system that ultimately led them all together. 

The Veronica character careens from scared, vulnerable and in-too-deep to a front of baddassery when around others (which becomes less and less of a front as the film progresses). Davis is an unstoppable presence throughout.

The emotional and confidence growth of the character Alice is conveyed brilliantly by Debicki; we’ll be seeing more of her on the big screen. These three actresses carry the emotional bulk of the film, but the supporting cast rounds it out with a depth that is rarely seen in 2018 blockbusters.   

What’s impressive about “Widows” is its ability to encompass so much thematic material while keeping its foot so steadily on the gas. Every scene holds an individual, isolated importance, as the sequences often mean more to individual characters than to the film’s plotting.

This film is one of my favorites of the year. I tried to hold back on even the mildest of spoilers, because this is a film that should be experienced.

Status: Strongly Recommend 

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

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