This story, which sees three widows teaming up to carry out the heist which killed their criminal husbands, made for a nice novel by Lynda La Plante, with its slow-burn structure and overabundance of characters and themes. Unfortunately, on screen we get a movie that doesn’t have the time to dig as deep as the novel.

It was adapted into a screenplay by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and directed by Steve McQueen, a filmmaker who has always made tough and punishing arthouse movies such as Hunger and Shame, going on to win an Oscar for 12 Years a Slave. Widows is definitely an easier watch than those films, but it is also more forgettable. It feels like McQueen and Flynn had contrasting visions. From one side, we get the plottings of a generic thriller, and from the other we get a meditation on family, gender and loyalty. Rather than flushing out one of those fully, the film is left half-baked in its pandering for both.

Because of this creative cacophony we never really get to know the heroes of Widows. We get to know the many villians well enough, sure, but that’s only because it can be easier to make an impact by having someone shoot up a basketball field or utter the n-word just fifteen minutes into the movie. Meanwhile the protagonists we are meant to root for are left underserved.

It’s frustrating because the lead character, Veronica Rawlins (the always magnificent Viola Davis), has had a life full of dark turns. So much so it seems heroic for her just not to be crushed and defeated from the very beginning. But way too often the filmmakers seem to ditch her story and shift the focus to an overly complicated political turmoil involving politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) and his opponent Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). There is some pretty harrowing personal drama happening under the surface with Rawlins, but the film barely bothers to unearth it.

As a result, we get a story that could have been about race, female empowerment, or just a plain old underdog heist film. Instead the result is a mess that can’t decide if it wants to be a statement or pure entertainment. With Hunger and 12 Years, McQueen has proven he can make a powerful movie without working with anything resembling a traditional plot. Here, the plot finally undoes him.

2 stars

Image Credit: Movie DB.

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