The key insight in Widows is that men are just the worst, though I’m not sure anyone was still on the fence about that one. If you just watched the trailer, you’d think it’s a movie about four women carrying on where their villainous husbands left off. Well, yes, there are women in it, and they’re planning a robbery. But the camera spends a lot of time checking out what the men of the world are up to. The robbery plan is tangled up in political infighting in Chicago, and we spend as much time listening in to the two horrible sides of that fight as we spend with Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriquez and Elizabeth Debicki and eventually Cynthia Erivo (Cynthia’s on a roll; she was the most surprising thing in Bad Times at the El Royale and she’s holding her own here against her three co-robbers).
And what an awful bunch of men we’ve got. The robbers which made the widows are no great loss to the world when they get themselves shot to pieces and blown up in a botched robbery; their destruction is such a “no-one could walk away from that moment” that as soon as it happened, I started a clock in my head for the moment when at least one of them would turn out to have just done that. Well, a stately jog, as it turns out, but I didn’t let that make me think I was wrong. Then there’s the two sides of the political race; Colin Farrell’s ghastly white sixth generation ward heeler pitted against Brian Tyree Henry’s crime-boss who’s decided politics is the logical next move to a life of criminal ease and unlimited money. Daniel Kaluuya gets to wipe out all the “Awww” he got from Get Out by playing Henry’s brother as such a walking blemish that when he finally gets got, your main reaction will be that it didn’t hurt anything like as much as it should have. Over on the white and privileged side of things, Colin Farrell has an equally ghastly family member in the shape of Robert Duvall’s grisly fifth generation ward heeler, all rage against minorities and disappointment that his son isn’t an entirely shameless monster.
Because, own this; Colin Farrell’s whiny privileged political manipulator - and part time murder plot organiser - is probably the most likeable man in the movie, apart from Viola Davis’ driver. For #MeToo players, check out the queasy undercurrents in Lukas Haas’ character, who rents Elizabeth Debicki for sex when it suits him, and gives an all too convincing performance of a creep who thinks that he’s a nice guy because he doesn’t actually threaten women into giving him sex. I sat there fuming, because in such a uniformly horrible male cast, there was a real risk that there would be people in the audience who’d think that Haas was playing a relatively nice guy. Tragically, he doesn’t get hit by a bus. I like to imagine it happened off screen.
Thank goodness for the women. They’re not written as great people either, but at least they don’t leave a slime trail wherever they go. And they have spirit. I wanted them to win; not just to make it out alive, but to win. And the movie needs that angle to work at all. The robbery takes a matter of minutes. The planning is occasionally fun, but it’s not often tense. So it will work only if you buy the characters and want to see what happens to them. That, above all, is what McQueen gets right in directing the movie. He has a great cast, and you want to know what’s going to happen to them. And even the small victories are glorious in their way. When Debicki goes out to buy guns without a clue, and figures out how to borrow a clue from someone else, you share her glee at carrying it off. Of course, equally when she’s being used by Lukas Haas, your heart’s in your boots as you look for an exit. Somehow, the stakes feel highest for Debicki’s character, and it’s not just because there’s something so frail and ethereal about her; it’s that she’s coming into the game with the least of all the players and has so few options. Every victory counts.
And I can’t tell you if she wins or not; the movie leaves me guessing. In her last scene, she has an absolutely perfect coat, but I’ve no idea how she got it, or where she’s going next. Probably not a sequel; this is not that kind of movie.