Widows: How to Get Away with Three “Taken” Movies

Spoiler Alert: This movie contains a TON of plot twists that if I revealed would ruin the movie. I will not reveal any of these, but I will reference certain parts of the film. Anyone super scared of spoilers and planning on watching “Widows” should stick to the “too long; didn’t read” section and the “Oscar Watch” portion. 

TL;DR Score and Synopsis: 63/100 – Intensely entertaining, albeit confusing.

To the Review:

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After his heart wrenching, Best Picture winning film “12 Years a Slave”, Director Steve McQueen was back at it again this year with a thrilling heist movie aptly titled, “Widows.” Trying to unpack all of the different plot elements and character arcs would take roughly six years, especially without revealing any spoilers. However, in a nutshell, McQueen’s newest film followed three grieving Widows hoping to find a way to manage financially after their husbands pass away—the catch being that to do this they finish the criminal work their husbands began. Amidst all of this, the widows find themselves trapped in the crossfire between two candidates running for an obscure city council position in Chicago—adding another element of intrigue (and some confusion) to everything.

The best word to describe the entire film would be “intense.” From the heated exchanges between two political candidates running for Alderman positions in Chicago, to the various time-crunched planning scenes for the heist, to the crazy character confrontations, “Widows” never relented on the drama. Every time a plot twist unfolded, the movie somehow managed to continue growing. Moviegoers looking for heated dialogue, action-packed scenes and big-time back-stabbings will not leave disappointed.

Few characters in the movie stood out (even if they all performed adequately); really, two characters stole the show: one from an acting standpoint, and one from both an acting and development standpoint.  The obvious character was Veronica (Viola Davis). Davis showed great emotional range, maintained a strong, independent persona, and most importantly, developed dynamically. As the film progressed, not only did she start to comprehend the nature of criminality, but she also began thinking more critically for herself.  

Viola Davis killin’ it in a any role has pretty much become an expectation. I did not come into this film thinking, “hmm, I wonder how Viola Davis will fare in ‘Widows’.” Any objective person who has seen even a glimpse of this powerful monologue knew she would do great in this role. However, the guy quietly building a nice resume for himself whom I hear far too little about is Daniel Kaluuya.  He absolutely stole the show in every scene as Jatemme Manning, brother and personal hitman of one of the Alderman candidates. He was intimidating, conniving, and just an outright badass. More scenes with his character would have been nice.

Speaking of characters, part of the film’s downside stemmed from there being WAY too many of them (a la Murder on the Orient Express), and not enough time to explore them in depth. Generally speaking, the fairly equal attention was given to these characters, but the sheer number made it difficult to follow and muddled some of the film. It was tedious, forcing viewers to remember a lot of the little activities in which the characters engaged. Although the film was well-written and tied in some nice, articulate thoughts about the non-blissfulness of ignorance, “Widows” bit off more than it could chew, and the theme suffered as a result.

Aside from the many characters, what baffled me most was the severe lack of motive behind master thief Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson). Throughout the entire course of the movie, they never successfully established exactly WHY he messed with both sides of the election in the way he did, nor did they show why his work on those heists was necessary. I found it difficult to invest in the whole scheme because the justification for the master plan seemed convoluted. Even when I started to gain a slightly better understanding of it all a few days later, the plot was pretty far-fetched.

The widows’ motives certainly made some sense, but between all of the different characters, the various plot twists, the overarching plan in itself, and some of the odd character decisions, the film became difficult to follow. Everything that Harry Rawlings concocted made little sense at best—moreover, some character lines just died, others branched off and never resolved. It took me days afterwards to piece everything together. A more optimistic person might add this to the re-watch value of the film, but it should not take three days to uncover and understand the plot of a movie. But hey—maybe I am just not the most intelligent person. Still, films usually find some sort of “eureka” moment where everything clicks and I decide whether the whole thing was brilliant or silly (I’m very much a “go big or go home” type of person). I never really got the chance to do that with “Widows,” because I fumbled around even just trying to comprehend what unfolded in front of me.   

This is more of a lighthearted jab at the film, but I thought the movie portrayed an election for an obscure city council position in a hilariously unrealistic way. They made it out to be some confrontational, dramatic, crazy battle with heists, hit men, mega donors, outright mob mentalities amongst the two campaigns, and constituents ACTUALLY paying attention to everything going on around them.  As someone who dabbles in politics, I am calling BS on ALL of this. City council (or Alderman) races are NEVER this intense. In fact, they are normally one of roughly fifteen different races people vote on over the course of a year, and if you’re lucky, a constituent might either know one of the candidates personally, or have heard one of the names off hand somewhere from a friend. To actually pretend like people tune into a debate for a race like this is beyond fiction. If you’re going to make an election seem like something straight out of “The Godfather”, AT LEAST make it for something high profile like governor, US Senator, or even Mayor where it makes sense for there to be such a propensity for shady behavior. Then again, we are talking about Chicago… Not exactly a prime example of a place with good governance. So, Steve, I guess I will let this one slide… For now.

Joking aside, “Widows” did not fail to entertain, even if it did fail to fully answer a lot of the lingering questions I had when the credits started to roll. To offset some of these harsh criticisms, I will say that there were many moments of “movie magic” in this film. Many of the action scenes were great; some of the high-stakes confrontations were epic, and the end heist did not disappoint.

In the future, I will re-visit this film. It might make a lot more sense with a clearer head. If so, I will gladly bump up the score of this film. For now, I remain slightly befuddled by everything.

Oscar Watch:

All things considered, Steve McQueen’s newest work does a lot right. Generally speaking, I could see what some Oscarologists call the “meat and potatoes” crowd in the Academy getting on board with this film and pushing it over the edge. What I mean by that is certain sections in the Academy tend to thoroughly enjoy and reward action packed blockbusters with their votes. There are few movies out there right now (let alone big time blockbusters) as intense as “Widows”.  It will need to compete with “Black Panther” for votes from this section, but I would still give it roughly a 50 percent chance of nomination. This is partly because of its merit, but also partly because Director Steve McQueen knows many of the members better than newcomer Ryan Coogler, Director of “Black Panther.” Recency bias could also come into play here, since “Widows” came out much later than “Black Panther.” Admittedly, both could sneak in there, but odds are it will be one or the other.  I do not anticipate “Widows” taking home any hardware, but it could secure nominees in the following five categories:  

Best Actress: Viola Davis as Veronica – Viola Davis is arguably one of the best in the business, and she did not disappoint here. Having as many characters as this film did might end up costing her, compared to some of the other potential nominees with more screen time to shine.

Best Adapted Screenplay –Even though I thought the themes were a little scattered in the film, I was impressed with the consistent, realistically articulate nature of the characters. It will definitely be in consideration for a nomination, even if it is unlikely to take home the grand prize.

Best Cinematography – Part of what made the film so intense stemmed from its clever camera angles that covered the action beautifully. A nomination would be deserving in this case. 

Best Editing – Their ability to infuse to blend flashback scenes and incorporate illusions from the grieving widows was impressive. The film was cut pretty well, which could land it in the nomination category.

Best Original Score – Hans Zimmer worked his magic yet again and his music selections did a marvelous job at building tension.