When four men are killed in a heist gone wrong their wives take on their next job. All of this whilst a political race for Alderman is taking place in the Chicago ward the crime took place.
Steve McQueen’s first feature since the Best Picture winning 12 Years a Slave has been advertised as a crime thriller, which is quite far from the truth. As you would expect from the man who brought Hunger, Shame and the aforementioned 12 Years a Slave to the screen, this is a film with far more interest in politics and human behaviour. Whilst book ended by fleeting images of heists the enjoyment to be had here is in the fully formed characters, their motivations and the underlying politics.
Whilst the titular widows are organising their heist and getting to know each other the plot also takes in the political race for Alderman that seems to feature two equally morally bankrupt men. Perhaps a sign of our times? Will the winner be Jack Mulligan, the son of the current incumbent, under suspicion for embezzlement and the epitome of nepotism in politics? Or local man of the people Jamal Manning, who is clearly linked with crime in the city? No prizes for joining the dots between the heist gone wrong that we see at the beginning of the film and the political race.
Throughout the film there are many social and political statements. Is it inconceivable that women can do the job of men? Is politics truly riddled with corruption and crime? There is one particularly clever shot where we see Mulligan and his aide enter a vehicle and hold a conversation whilst they are driven from a rally back to his home. The camera stays on the bonnet of the car and whilst we hear their voices we see them travel the short distance from the rundown neighbourhood where he is running for office to the plush suburban area he lives in a mansion. It manages to be disorienting and brilliantly clever at the same time.
It is the characters and casting that make this film work though. The film is littered with current and future stars. Our widows are played by Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki. All give strong performances and each character is shaped by different challenges. Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry cast intimidating figures as the Manning Brothers, one seeking legitimacy whilst the other embracing his crime roots. Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall are the entitled Mulligans, one institutionally racist whilst the other already jaded. Liam Neeson and Jon Bernthal make a mark with brief roles as the doomed husbands. And there is even time for Jacki Weaver to appear as possibly the most hideous mothers to appear on film to one of our heroines.
A really interesting film to digest then. But one that you might need to recalibrate expectations for if you are looking for an action packed thriller as the trailers suggest.