TIFF 18: ‘Widows’

Rating: 3.5/4

Filmed in the burned out lots, in the gang littered asphalt streets, under the rumble of the El-track trains on Chicago’s South Side, exists Steve McQueen’s Widows, a film that straddles the precarious divide between blockbuster and awards contender, thriller and social commentary.

Widows begins with a gang of burglars, all from different socioeconomic backgrounds. When they’re killed after a job gone wrong, their widows find that their husbands stole money from the wrong man, in this case, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), a ruthless former criminal now running for Alderman. Making the situation more grave is Manning’s partner, Jatemme played by a brutal and cold Daniel Kaluuya. The wives are tasked with paying the $2 mill. their husbands stole, while rebuilding their now broken lives, and to that end they plan a $5 mill. heist of the current Alderman’s home, Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell).

The cast is deep and immaculate. Viola Davis as Veronica, widow to Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson), brings an Annalise Keating vibe to her performance. She’s powerful, yet shattered. She’s supported by Michelle Rodriguez as Linda, Elizabeth Debicki as Alice, and Cynthia Erivo as Bell. The four form a crew that’s as diverse in their lives as in their respective backgrounds, with each actress occupying a pocket of grief, wit, and resourcefulness.

Widows also features a sequence that will inhabit film classes for decades to come, as Mulligan and Siobahn occupy a car driving through Chicago’s South Side. The camera is mounted on the outside of the car over its black tinted windshield. Inside, the characters debate the length of a black guy’s slong, while on the outside, within a few blocks, the neighborhood shifts from poverty to affluence. Anyone from Chicago, the most segregated city in America, will recognize McQueen’s intent immediately. It’s a seamless statement in a film that adeptly balances the heist genre with social awareness.

An official selection of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF): 2018.

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