Almost every line in this film is gold. And almost every character, no matter how small, is exquisitely drawn. A kind of distaff Goodfellas, it takes off when Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson as, surprise, surprise, a villain) gets killed during a heist. Or does he? The money is burned. Or is it? These questions are answered in surprising fashion.
His widow Veronica (Viola Davis) is left with a debt. Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) was meant to get some of the money. He isn’t pleased. He tells Veronica to sell everything she owns to make it up. She doesn’t want to do that.
Instead she recruits three other women whose husbands were killed in the heist to rob a premises. Harry had targeted it before his misfortune. He’s left the plans behind him. Veronica scrutinises them. They could get her out of a fix.
The idea of a woman who’s never been involved in crime taking to it with the kind of relish she does here might have come across as far-fetched in another actresses’ hands. Not Davis. With her dead-eyed stare she convinces us right off the bat that she would have no trouble navigating such terrain. This is the kind of role she gobbles up before breakfast.
Veronica isn’t your average action heroine. She’s motivated by fear and grief rather than the desire to become a Sigourney Weaver or an Uma Thurman. Likewise her three colleagues. Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo aren’t exactly household names but they give gilt-edged performances.
Manning is running for mayor. His rival is corrupt politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). This is a world of venality where sex is procurable for the right fee and one’s enemies can be rubbed out by a Glock pistol in the blink of an eye. Manning’s brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) is even more lethal than he is, which is saying something.
Steve McQueen directs. He grabs you by the throat from the first frame and doesn’t let go until the action-packed finale. Gillian (Gone Girl) Flynn co-wrote the tension-soaked script with him.
Edited to perfection, Widows is structured with a series of interlocking scenes and flashbacks. McQueen threads them together in a mosaic that oozes atmosphere.
His cast of characters comprises both career criminals and those reluctantly drawn into walks on the wild side by dint of the fact that life dealt them cards from the bottom of the deck. Themes of sexism, racism and political chicanery are mixed in with the bone-chilling violence.
Farrell brings his usual professionalism to the role but his Irish-American accent could have done with being more Irish. He also needed more presence. He should have put on some weight to achieve this. Not as much as he had in Horrible Bosses, maybe, but enough to let you know he’s in a room before he speaks. Great actors have this kind of power. Colin has a bit to go yet.