Sometimes filmmakers try to use a safe, or at least commercial, film genre to tell a story with a deeper meaning. Take for instance the Netflix film “Triple Frontier.” It’s about a group of ex-special forces operatives who, motivated by their personal debts, to steal a cash fortune from a drug lord. On one hand, it has a good action adventure setup. On the other, it also sneaks in some commentary on how the government treats veterans.
In that regard, last year’s “Widows” is a similar movie.
Part crime movie, part drama, “Widows” follows a group of ordinary wives who are only connected to each other by their husbands, a crew of professional thieves. But after their latest job goes bad, the crew is killed in a shootout with the police. Now with their husbands gone, and a massive debt owed to a crime boss their husbands had stolen from, the widows decide to provide for themselves, by conducting a robbery of their own.
Directed and co-written by acclaimed filmmaker Steve McQueen. The cast includes Viola Davis, Cynthia Erivo, Michelle Rodriguez, Daniel Kaluuya, and a bunch of other talented actors, who all seem to shine in their roles, even if they’re only brief cameos.
“Widows” tries to be so much more with its story. It features subject matter covering gender roles, race and the dirty world of politics, all set on the gritty streets of Chicago.
“Widows” embraces its setting, making Chicago into another character. With skilled cinematography and world building, you see all sides of the city. The poor neighborhoods with heavy violence. The carefree, rich neighborhoods that are seemingly in another world, despite both being only a short car drive away, which is clearly shown in one of the best scenes of the film. By also showing the city government, it makes a thoughtful point on politics. The two villains of the film are both up for a local election. And the movie almost makes you choose which one you would end up voting for, who is the lesser evil, because one of them does end up winning.
Part of “Widows” world building comes from the characters. This movie is an ensemble, with dozens of different people. But each is memorable in their own way. “Widows” does a good job of balancing its characters and keeping the plot from getting confusing. It’s a film that trusts its audience. Not everything is explained in the beginning. There are things that might feel confusing like, for example, why are we spending so much time with this character? In the end, it does come together, making this movie work.
But these aspects of drama and social justice can almost conflict with the crime story. Sometimes it feels like “Widows” is two different movies. However, that could be intentional. There’s a lot of contrast in this movie’s story. It compares the widows’ normal lives with the world of crime. So it could be on purpose that these elements of drama and crime don’t feel the same.
Another issue, which is also an intentional choice, is the tone. This film takes itself very seriously. It is addressing sensitive subject matter, but it’s constantly a drama. Unlike most crimes movies, you don’t get the sense of enjoyment watching “Widows.”
Let me explain myself. While many crime dramas are gritty, brutal and filled with a lot of cussing, there is still a sense of enjoyment to them. “Goodfellas” and “The Departed” are gritty movies, but they can also be fun to watch during certain parts. Even a movie like “American Gangster,” which despite having several dramatic scenes, doesn’t feel like a straightforward drama. “Widows” is a drama throughout, to the point that the movie can almost feel like a drag. So, if you’re looking for a heist or crime movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then you probably won’t enjoy “Widows” that much.
So considering its serious tone and contrasting elements, “Widows” is a really good movie. While it does miss the mark sometimes, it does work overall. It’s a well-made film and is definitely worth being watched and analyzed.
It’s a film full of substance. It took a safe genre, in this case, the heist/crime movie, and used it to explore some hard-hitting themes. The main focus stays on its characters, who are well-defined and some are given very satisfying arcs, aided by skilled acting and direction.
- “Widows” is an adaption of an English TV series of the same name.