Review: Widows

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

This review originally appeared as part of TIFF 2018

PLOT: After her thief husband (Liam Neeson) is killed on a job, his widow (Viola Davis) tries to carry-out his final heist with the help of two other women (Michelle Rodriguez & Elizabeth Debicki) whose husbands were killed on the same job.

REVIEW: WIDOWS was definitely not the film I expected from Steve McQueen, but I mean that in a good way. I admire him a lot as a director, but he’s always struck me as a distinctly art-house  kind of guy, so I assumed his take on an urban thriller would be high-brow. Pleasantly, he shows an affinity for genre right off the bat when some love making between Liam Neeson and Viola Davis is intercut with a high-speed, ultra-intense shootout brilliantly staged, and the movie only gets better from there.


McQueen, who co-wrote the script (which on based on a British TV show from the eighties) with Gillian Flynn has a real knack for commercial, genre-filmmaking, peppered with just enough sly social commentary to give it a provocative edge. Another surprise is how much of an ensemble it is, with Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and recruit Cynthia Erivo, while the center of the film, not the sole focus. Almost as much screen time is spent on Colin Farrell and Brian Tyree Henry’s duelling politicians, both of whom are connected to Neeson’s crime.

In this sense, it becomes partially a gangster film, with Henry a crime lord looking to make a move politically, with the money ripped off by Neeson cash he was using to fund his campaign. Henry is cast against-type as the silver-tongued, ultra-intense figure, while Daniel Kaluuya all but steals the show as his psychotic brother, who works as his muscle. Farrell also appears to be having a blast as the politico stuck in a tricky situation, wihile Robert Duvall steals scenes as his powerhouse dad, who’s been struck infirm but is as sharp as a tack despite having a mindset that’s generations out of date.

All four women are terrific, with Davis owning as the conflicted head of the gang, torn between her grief and a need to survive. Her performance is cool and collected when it needs to be, operatic at others, and even funny now and then, with her toting around a cute dog named Olivia throughout that you can’t help but worry isn’t gonna make it to the closing credits uninjured. Rodriguez and Erivo are similarly good, but of the remaining crew, Elizabeth Debicki gets the meatiest part as a formerly abused moll looking for a way out.

WIDOWS is technically impeccable as always for McQueen, with some really interesting shots, and one of Hans Zimmer’s better recent scores. The pacing is fast and furious, although one or two decisions in the climactic scenes feel a little sloppy, marring things just a tad. WIDOWS, while probably too action-fuelled to become a major awards player, is a slick move into a new type of filmmaking for McQueen, who proves to be a hugely versatile talent. Even if the trailers didn’t quite do it for you, give this one a shot. It’s absolutely rock-solid entertainment and often pretty damn thrilling.




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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.