Viola Davis and Cynthia Erivo star in ‘Widows.’ Photo by Merrick Morton

Viola Davis and Cynthia Erivo star in ‘Widows.’ Photo by Merrick Morton

Crime Doesn’t Pay Off in ‘Widows’

Steve McQueen’s feminist heist thriller stretches itself far too thin.

Widows probably works best as a three-minute trailer (punchy and funny) or a longform miniseries (deep and complicated). It’s a movie, though, which means we’re stuck with a fitfully engaging, 129-minute feature that only occasionally gets out of gear. The film is actually based on a miniseries, broadcast in England in the 1980s. Adapted here by Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn and director Steve McQueen, Widows tries to be a lot of different things: heist thriller, feminist statement, social-issue diagnosis. That’s a lot to bite off, and 129 minutes isn’t enough time for proper chewing.

We begin with a crime that goes wrong, resulting in the deaths of three accomplished Chicago crooks. Their widows, played by Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, and Michelle Rodriguez, are threatened by unhappy gangsters whose money is missing in the aftermath of the spree. If the women don’t band together and steal an equivalent amount, their odds of survival are slim. Meanwhile, a slick candidate (Colin Farrell) seeks to replace his deeply corrupt father (Robert Duvall) as alderman. The opposing candidate (the deliciously menacing Brian Tyree Henry) is hardly better than the entrenched politicos, especially as represented by his brutal henchman (Daniel Kaluuya, from Get Out).

McQueen, the guiding hand behind 12 Years a Slave, captures some striking moments. A scene with a dog used as a not-so-subtle warning is extremely unnerving. And there’s a very eccentric shot, of the outside of a car, depicting exactly how quick it takes to get from the ghetto to the poshest street in town.

As an action movie, Widows lacks gusto, and its political awareness has been done better on TV. It’s curiously unbalanced, too. Viola Davis (potent as always) plays the central figure, but we also see a lot about Debicki’s anxious character, forced to consider a career in high-class sex work with a rich client (Lukas Haas). Yet the other widow, Rodriguez, gets no personal life after her introduction. And we’d like to know more about the babysitter who becomes a member of the gang, played by livewire Cynthia Erivo (late of Bad Times at the El Royale). She has a great moment, sprinting for a bus, that puts to shame the impressive supercuts of Tom Cruise running—because she’s running out of desperation, not heroism. Debicki, a towering presence (literally—she’s six foot three) in the Guardians of the Galaxy world, is the breakout star from this ensemble. It’s a good cast, with tasty bits from Liam Neeson (as Davis’s late husband), Carrie Coon, and Jacki Weaver. All the elements are there, yet Widows doesn’t really satisfy. The people are vivid, the situations intriguing, but the movie leaves you wanting more—and not in the good way.


Opens Thursday, November 15 | Rated R

More in Film

Seattle Asian American Film Festival 2019 Picks

Make the most of the cultural cinematic event with these four selections.

‘Roma’ projects to be the big winner at the 91st Academy Awards this Sunday. Photo by Carlos Somonte
And The Winner Is: 2019 Oscars Preditions

Who will take home the awards on cinema’s biggest night?

Mads Mikkelsen stars in Seattle’s current weather… I mean, ‘Arctic.’ Photo by Helen Sloan/Bleecker Street
Mads Mikkelsen Delivers a Tour de Force in ‘Arctic’

The near-silent performance makes this survival film transcend the genre.

The upbeat everyman Emmet remains cheerful even in post-apocalyptic settings. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Everything’s Still Awesome

‘The Lego Movie 2’ builds on the success of the original with more humorous pop culture-drenched adventure.

In a fairer world, little film like ‘The Rider’ would have a chance at Oscars gold. Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics
Who We Would’ve Nominated For 2019 Academy Awards

Narrow defintions of “Oscar worthy films” and Hollywood politics shut out some of the year’s best. Let’s change that.

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly take the stage as Laurel and Hardy. 
Photo by Nick Wall/Sony Pictures Classics
‘Stan & Ollie’ and the Art of Playing Comedic Geniuses

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly carry the story of legendary duo Laurel and Hardy.

Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig simmer as musicians in love in <em>Cold</em> <em>War</em>. Photo by Lukasz Bak
The Warm Musical Romance of ‘Cold War’

The gorgeous Polish tale of love behind the Iron Curtain would be a layup for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in a non-‘Roma’ year.

KiKi Layne (Tish) and Stephan James (Fonny) star in ‘If Beale Street Could Talk.’ Photo by Tatum Mangus/Annapurna Pictures
Meandering Along ‘Beale Street’

Barry Jenkins follows up ‘Moonlight’ with the textured racial mood piece, ‘If Beale Street Could Talk.’

Jason Momoa and Patrick Wilson square off in ‘Aquaman.’ Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
‘Aquaman’ Can’t Figure Out Which Wave to Surf

The latest DC Comic movie struggles to find a balance between keeping a straight face and having fun.

Emily Blunt takes on the role of the magical nanny in Mary Poppins Returns. 
Photo courtesy Walt Disney Studios
‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Boasts Nostalgic Musical Charm

The first soundtrack album I ever knew deeply was Mary Poppins, and… Continue reading

Spider-Folks from various dimensions come together in ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.’ Image courtesy Columbia Pictures/Sony
‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ Gets Caught in Its Own Web

The animated comic book gets stuck up on its multiverse fan service.

Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone battle for the queen’s attention in <em>The Favourite</em>. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima/Twentieth Century Fox
Black Comedy with a Regal Veneer

Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz bring catty rivalry to the queen’s court in ‘The Favourite.’