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Review: Widows

Viola Davies and Elizabeth Debicki in Widows, COS.net

What happens when you are backed into a corner after being dismissed, neglected, abused and extorted? In director Steve McQueen’s “Widows,” we see four women decide to hold no punches and start fighting back.

Helmed by the deeply emotive performance of Viola Davis (I’m betting on a Best Actress nomination), “Widows” is a gritty heist-thriller with an undertone of empowerment through its portrayals of women seeking a sense of freedom that is not tied to the impulses of men.

Set in Chicago, a city synonymous with violence and political corruption, the movie opens with what has become a noted scene for its normalcy in the midst of chaos. Intercut with the fatal heist committed by the husbands is a flashback moment of intimacy between Veronica (Viola Davis) and Harry (Liam Neeson). Davis has since described the scene as revolutionary in its centring of affection between a black woman and a ‘Hollywood hunk’ that doesn’t play into stereotypical tropes.

Soon after Harry’s funeral Veronica is approached by Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), a street hustler-turned-politician. It was his money that went up in flames and Veronica now owes a multimillion dollar debt. She is trapped in a political minefield of corruption, kickbacks and crime with Manning challenging legacy candidate Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) for his father’s (Robert Duvall) Alderman position.

The stark contrast between the lives of the Mulligans and the constituents of the 18th ward is visualised through a car scene from a community event to Jack Mulligan’s house. As he argues with his aide, the scene is shot completely from the outside of the car and shows the transition from broken down buildings to a fortified mansion within the span of a few blocks. A depiction of a political arena where everyone is stuffing their pockets, including the clergy.

Having only his notebook of heist plans, Veronica enlists help from the wives of Harry’s accomplices – Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), a mother of two and dress shop owner, and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), who has been abused throughout her life. Belle (Cynthia Erivo), a hardworking single mum from the Southside, eventually joins the team as the getaway driver.

Planning the heist in the same warehouse as their late husbands, they tap into the invisibility of women that might guarantee their success. “The best thing we have going for us is being who we are … because no one thinks we have the balls to pull this off.”

The remaking of the 1980s television series by crime writer Lynda La Plante is given new weight through its underpinnings of social commentary surrounding current issues of divisive politics and questionable policing. A reminder that some lives are protected more than others that is brought to life by four distinct women with real problems of love, loss and family.

“Widows” offers a multitude of notable performances from an ensemble cast. Daniel Kaluuya as the insidious brother of Jamal Manning, Michelle Rodriguez taking a dramatic turn away from her usual kick-ass persona, Elizabeth Debicki summoning empathy as someone learning to stand up for herself, Cynthia Erivo embodying perseverance despite the circumstances and Robert Duvall portraying the old guard wrapped in bigoted ideals about immigration and people of colour. Yet the performance by Viola Davis sets the bar incredibly high, evoking the excruciating pain of loss expressed by a deafening silence of emotion. I’m calling it now, this movie will be a top contender during awards season.