The UnPopular Opinion: Widows

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!


As we approach this Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, I thought I would tackle a film that was critically acclaimed and yet garnered virtually no buzz during awards season. Coming from 12 YEARS A SLAVE director Steve McQueen and GONE GIRL writer Gillian Flynn, WIDOWS looked to be a slam dunk with a cast of talent including Viola Davis, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert Duvall, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal, and so many others. Marketed as a terse crime thriller with action elements, I was beyond excited to see McQueen and Flynn deliver a movie that would blend artistic cinema with the best Hollywood blockbusters. What we ended up getting was a banal and tone deaf film that is neither thrilling nor interesting. If anything, WIDOWS is the most languid and ridiculous waste of time I have seen in quite some time.

The set up for WIDOWS is a fascinating one: the spouses of a crew of criminals must team up to complete a heist in order to escape the criminals their husbands stole from. From a conceptual standpoint, the story works beautifully as it did in the British series that aired on ITV in 1983. By updating it for 2018, McQueen and Flynn decided to set the film in Chicago, a hot bed of crime and political corruption. Living in the Chicago area, I was excited to see the city utilized in a way that New York commonly is. Plus, making the Rawlings an interracial couple added another layer that fit updated setting. How could a film go wrong with Viola Davis and Liam Neeson in the lead roles? By stifling the story with almost two hours of filler and plot elements that are virtually never paid off.

Crime, Drama, thriller, Steve McQueen, Steve McQueen, Gillian Flynn, Viola Davis, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson, michelle rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Farrell, Widows, 2018, The UnPopular OpinionFrom an acting standpoint, WIDOWS is excellent. Everyone is cast perfectly with the exception of Matt Walsh as a mark that the crew blackmails to facilitate their plan. Walsh, who is hilarious on Veep and in virtually everything he does, is comical in a film that is bereft of humor. None of WIDOWS is built to elicit anything but dour expressions and it works. I can think of a handful of scenes in the entire movie that feature any character in a good mood and no levity whatsoever in the proceedings. I am not saying that a film has to have a sense of humor to be any good, but putting Walsh in that single scene completely takes you out of the otherwise dead serious story. In fact, for a story that features physical abuse, gangster style executions, bloody car crashes and racially motivated deaths, this scene feels tacked on.

The subplot focusing on the political campaigns of Colin Farrell's Jack Mulligan and Bryan Tyree Henry's Jamal Manning is another intriguing one that warranted it's own movie. Within the confines of WIDOWS, their story serves only to flesh out the heist that Rawlings and her crew are perpetrating. I loved the machinations of the two competing politicians and how they both were striving to make their communities better while also lining their own pockets. Adversaries in every sense, Henry and Farrell barely scratched the potential surface of the corruption that Chicago politics have been known for. Instead, for the amount of screentime they are given in WIDOWS, their storylines are unceremoniously resolved off screen and explained away via reporters playing in the background of the film's ending.

And that is the crux of the problem with WIDOWS. By setting the film in Chicago amidst a very politically tumultous era, WIDOWS tackles everything from spousal abuse to police brutality with about as much subtlety as Liam Neeson's disturving kiss technique. Seriously, you cannot unsee how he uses his mouth in the opening scene. But I digress. WIDOWS crams in everything from Robert Duvall's cranky racist politician to Cynthia Erivo's character leaving her children to babysit other kids for money. All of these scenes individually are thought provoking and yet none amount to more than a pile of unrealized story threads. Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn seemed to have thrown every idea into the finished screenplay and thought that they would stick but instead it feels like a half-finished story. By dedicating so much screen time to building villains out of Farrell, Henry, and a wasted (yet excellent) Daniel Kaluuya, it undermines the entire picture.

Then there is that twist. That stupid, pulpy twist that feels completely unearned after everything that we saw. The twist itself which revealed Liam Neeson's Harry as the backstabbing architect of everything that happens in the film, existed in the original television series but the added element that he had a baby with Carrie Coon's Amanda comes seemingly out of left field. The death of Veronica and Harry's son at the hands of a trigger happy cop is a painful scene in this film but still doesn't come close to explaining how these two people went from being so deeply in love to where they end up in the final act of the film. Sure, it could represent that you don't really know a person (echoed from Flynn's similar reveal in GONE GIRL), but it never feels more than a tacked on twist to try and wrap up the overly convoluted film with minimal effort. 

Crime, Drama, thriller, Steve McQueen, Steve McQueen, Gillian Flynn, Viola Davis, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson, michelle rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Farrell, Widows, 2018, The UnPopular Opinion

My problems with WIDOWS may not seem substantial when taken individually but they accumulate to a mountain of problems with this movie. At 130 minutes, we have the heist sequence clocking in at no more than twenty total minutes. I understand that this movie is not merely a heist film nor the thriller it was marketed to be, but it never feels like it knows what it wants to be. Hans Zimmer's excellent score seems to think this is a thriller, but it feels like it was attached to the wrong movie. Chicago as a setting is woefully underused as half the time you cannot tell where the movie is even taking place. There could have been something truly special about this movie as the individual performances from each actor, especially Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez, are really well executed. From the pointless roles that amount to nothing more than cameos from Jon Bernthal and Jacki Weaver to the wasted talents of Lukas Haas , Garrett Dillahunt and Kevin J. O'Connor, WIDOWS should have been an ensemble masterpiece. Instead, it is a waste of time.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected] or spell it out in the comments below. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!


About the Author

5929 Articles Published

Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.