Widows, directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Shame), is about three women who are forced to pay back the debts of their criminal husbands after they’re killed during a botched heist.
This is a mostly plot-driven film, interested less in character than in the machinations of its crime thriller genre. McQueen attempts to imbue the film with ideas and emotions more high-minded, but it gets caught in a tedious middle-ground of conflicting intentions.
It’s setting being the crime-filled Chicago (or ‘Chi-raq’) is hardly incidental. McQueen frames the film’s developments around an impending local election which sheds light on the city’s institutional racism and corruption. This, unfortunately, is never more than obvious in its exploration. For a filmmaker who’s often been so uncompromising with the ideas he’s working with, his approach at points feels shockingly paint-by-numbers.
The film is bristling with notable talent – perhaps too much (Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell and Jackie Weaver round out a stacked cast). Even bit parts here are played by actors you wish were more anonymous. Its biggest issue lies right here: there’s so many recognisable faces that it’s hard to experience any kind of immersion in this world. Colin Farrell, for instance, is cast in a role that requires him to sport a thick Chicagoan accent (which, for me, bordered on parody). It’s hard to understand why an Irishman was cast in a role that would’ve been more seamlessly filled by an American actor.
Ultimately, Widows feels like the product of an artist trying to bridge his sensibilities with something decidedly more mainstream. The result is a curious hybrid of genre filmmaking and social commentary that’s not very successful in either respect.