The irritating “Widows” becomes even moreso with director Steve McQueen‘s insistence on using his signature artsy visuals. The opening scene of a heist shot from the back of a getaway van is creative but as the film drones on and on (and on), his manufactured cleverness becomes increasingly tiring. I won’t place the blame solely on McQueen’s direction, because “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay — and the pair are less than a perfect cinematic match.
This modern-day thriller tells the forced multicultural story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Wealthy Veronica (Viola Davis) was married to the mastermind (Liam Neeson) and now becomes a ringleader of her own. She assembles a crew of her fellow widows, including Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), and Linda’s babysitter Belle (Cynthia Erivo) to pull off a heist to get several million dollars to pay off the menacing bad guy (Daniel Kaluuya).
What sounds like a meaningless popcorn movie based on pulp material is elevated with McQueen’s skilled (if exhausting) direction, but at least his smarter visuals engage the brain. Too bad the far-fetched, sensational script does not. The plot has too many elements and characters, a slow moving disarray with a pointless storyline about the political race between corrupt Alderman candidate (Colin Farrell) and his violence-prone opponent (Brian Tyree Henry). It’s unclear if this subplot is meant to be a smack down on social warfare or an examination of racial issues in Chicago. McQueen’s show-off artistry looks slick but fails to build a clear, coherent point.
Adding another blunder is the ridiculous overacting, from Davis and Robert Duvall in particular. I don’t need to see more screeching or single tears while delivering lines (*cough* Oscar bait! *cough*). Most of the cast appeared to have wandered off the set of a B-grade television movie.
The revenge story picks up about an hour into the film as it delivers a brutal commercialization of female empowerment. Are the filmmakers trying to tell me this movie is “brave” and “original” simply because it has women of color firing guns and getting bloody? They turn their grief into violence but a thirst for blood doesn’t equal toughness, nor does it embody what it means to be a feminist. The message here seems to be more along the lines of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” and it’s disturbing.
These characters may be resourceful and smart, but they are also unlikeable. They aren’t idealized and are shown to have many flaws, but it made me queasy to be rooting for these ladies to murder people for their share of dirty money. At least the villains are scary and intimidating, and Kaluuya is good at making you feel a real sense of danger.
But after all of the pointless plot twists, all that’s left is a jumbled mess of bloody brutality that delivers zero payoff with a disappointing ending.