Director: Steve McQueen
Release Date: November 15, 2018
The term “popcorn movie” is new to me. I hear it and think, Well, yeah, I love popcorn. Of course I enjoy some while watching movies, right? No. “Popcorn movie,” defined from the always reliable Urban Dictionary, is “fun to watch without necessarily being particularly good. The sort of film you sit down to watch while eating copious amounts of popcorn and drinking soda by the gallon at the theater.” Or, you know, summer superhero blockbusters.
Steve McQueen’s star-stacked heist movie Widows had all the makings to fit right in with this definition. The movie features some of the biggest action movie stars working right now Liam Neeson (Taken), and Michela Rodriguez from the Fast and Furious franchise. The movie opens with a bang, cutting between a police shootout and the most intense game of tonsil hockey I’ve ever seen between Viola Davis and Neeson, making for a real James Bond-style opening.
After their husbands are killed in a shootout while attempting to steal $2 million from Chicago gangster Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), the gangster gives Veronica (Davis) one month to liquidate all assets in order to pay back the money that was stolen from him (and lost) by her husband. Seeing no other option to pay the ruthless gangster back, Veronica recruits the wives of the other men who were killed in the shooting to pull off a heist outlined in her dead husband’s notebook.
On the surface it seems like the premise of your typical heist movie, much like the Ocean’s movies, but what sets this apart is the added layer of politics and corruption. Manning planned to use that money to finance his campaign for alderman of a South Side ward. Manning is running against Jack Mulligan (Collin Farrell), who had his own dealings with Veronica’s late husband.
With a plot so packed with details, it would have been easy for McQueen to fumble this into a confusing mess, but he does a good job with keeping the audience on track. He gives us all the things that make heist movies great, such as the planning, shootouts and explosions, while also developing the characters. We see the widows grow both individually and as a group.
The performances are great. Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Black Panther, Sicario) plays Jamal Manning’s brother and main enforcer. Kaluuya is absolutely insane as he does unspeakable things to make sure his brother gets elected in a way that makes the audience incredibly uncomfortable. His scenes are memorable and will have you squirming in your seat. Kaluuya makes the most of his limited screen time and gives us one of the best villain performances we’ve seen this year.
The other standout was Elizabeth Debicki. She plays Alice, who has been pushed around by seemingly everyone in her life, from her late husband (who is physically abusive to her) to her mother (who does not believe in her ability to be independent without a “man to take care of her”). She grows naturally throughout the film and, by the end, she is clearly done taking anyone’s shit.
Widows is a fresh take on a genre that’s been done so well so many times. It is entertaining, from beginning to end with deep story lines and plot twists that keep you on the edge of your seat. Widows is definitely a “popcorn movie” in all the best ways. More than just worth a look, it’s a must see.