Widows tried to be too many things

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Widows is the story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities. With the story set in contemporary Chicago amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica (Oscar® winner Viola Davis), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

Widows is based on a Lynda La Plante miniseries from the 1980s. It should have stayed a series, especially considering the quality and aesthetic of TV in 2018. Instead, Steve McQueen (III) reworked an interesting plot into a patchwork of seemingly great ideas, too many secondary plots, on-the-nose social commentary and not enough action. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the highlights of the film.

Widows tries to be a heist movie-cum-social drama, but does not deliver on either. The pace is too slow for a heist film, and there’s very little action, in the end. Then, there is not enough depth to the characters for it to be a drama, and the social commentary is too mechanical, too methodically placed for it to really seep into the fibre of the film.

There are too many characters and not nearly enough depth to the leads. You do not get under their skins, or, in the end, care for them. The top-notch cast tries very hard to make the at-times-cheesy dialogue, sound less cheesy. Viola Davis is broody. Michelle Rodriguez frowns a lot. Elizabeth Debicki starts off vacuous and remains vacuous. It is a pity such a great cast and their respective talents were wasted.

All the secondary plots make it hard to follow the main narrative. One cannot keep up with who is double-crossing whom. Or who shot whom and with which gun. You don’t really care that much, either.

Then, there are the incidentals. A hip flask, used in a very odd situation, is carefully placed in another odd situation? Having the dog in almost every scene only makes sense when the dog smells someone behind a closed door, in that same odd situation. The babysitter joining the gang willy-nilly? Alice (Debicki) just happens to shag an architect who can magically explain the blueprint the gang is trying to decipher? Come on.

There is one standout gritty, understated scene that could have been the basis for a much darker film. Politician-gangster Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) is driven from a poor section of the neighbourhood (where he has just launched some BS scheme) to his glitzy house in a richer part of the hood. The camera is placed on the hood of the car. In the frame, you have half of the car, half of the changing surroundings. You hear the fight inside the car, though, from start to finish. Jack is tired of the racketeering, of the struggle to keep appearances up. His wife settles the argument. She tells him to man up in no uncertain terms. Where he was angry and defiant when he got into the car, he is defeated when he gets out.

Widows is a methodically thought-out blueprint, but with no beating heart. Why it scores 91% on Rotten Tomatoes is beyond me.

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