There has been a heist in Chicago that has not ended well, with its mastermind Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his team landing in a high speed chase with the cops who dogged their every move, and when the criminals tried to change their vehicle to get away, the law was waiting for them and executed them in a hail of bullets, believing the bad guys had shot first. This would be bad enough for the deceased, but the widows they left behind are now placed in a very difficult position as they have ended up with no means of support since their husbands had tied them up in crime, without their knowledge. Now Harry's wife Veronica (Viola Davis) must take drastic action...
Widows was one of the first, highly acclaimed television series from British writer Lynda La Plante, which became appointment viewing for millions in 1983. One of those viewers was director Steve McQueen, who was so impressed he filed away the good memories of the programme for decades until he had the opportunity to remake it as a Hollywood blockbuster, or that was the idea anyway. Yet while the reviews were good, audiences were less than enthusiastic, which was odd since they had made the same year's Ocean's 8 a runaway success, and that was a female-led heist flick as well. It seemed the issue was that film was a comedy, and this wanted you to take it very seriously.
So seriously in fact that McQueen was applying the tone and rigour of his previous, extremely heavy issues films and hitching it to La Plante's scenario, all the more curious as Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame was penning the screenplay with him, and there was someone you would have thought knew how to eke the fun and thrills out of this kind of material. However, the self-seriousness that marked out the director's work was far too much in evidence; if he had any sense of humour, understandably it had not been to the fore in his past efforts considering the themes and plots they concerned themselves with, but here was a storyline that desperately needed some oomph.
As it was, Veronica gathers her fellow widows - Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) - to try and save themselves from punishing debt and worse by staging their husbands' heist themselves, a killer premise for a thriller, which confoundingly this fumbled at almost every turn. Despite marshalling a terrific ensemble cast, very few of them were given a chance to shine, with maybe only Daniel Kaluuya as the hardman brother of Brian Tyree Henry's politician character getting to grips with what he had been offered, a genuinely menacing performance that, again, bafflingly was only allowed to make an impact in tiny morsels - Henry's presence was even more wasted, as he is established as pivotal to the narrative then dropped like a hot potato well before the halfway point.
There was a sense condensing a television series that luxuriated in the space hours of episodes can allow had scuppered McQueen's ambitions, and left an experience that ironically took ages to get going, despite trying to pack in multiple matters in around two hours. Every so often a great performer, or even just a very good one, would hove into view for their party piece, but you would probably find yourself remembering Veronica's cute terrier over any of its human co-stars. The results were a real slog to reach a finale, the supposedly anticipated robbery, that was over with in indecent haste, and left a lot of plot points dangling or simply not making any sense, motivations flying out the window throughout. Plus I'm pretty sure (spoiler) schools are not allowed to accept private donations of bags of stolen cash with no questions asked. Even more disappointing, the tries at social commentary did not come across as relevant to anything in the real world, strictly constructions of crime movie land. Music by Hans Zimmer.