by Simon Ong
Directed by Steve McQueen, screenplay by Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen
Widows shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, it’s written and directed by Steve McQueen whose last film, 12 Years a Slave, took home Best Picture at the Oscars in 2014. So, I was expecting to like it, definitely, but for whatever reason I wasn’t expecting to love it. But love it I did.
There are many reasons to love Widows. The cast, for example. I’ve often found myself on this list gushing about various supporting casts — but Widows is on a whole other level in terms of all-star talent. Led by Viola Davis, the remaining cast includes the likes of Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson. In a large crime thriller like this, a cast like that can often make all the difference.
Of particular note in that cast are actually those with less name-brand recognition than the likes of a Farrell or a Neeson. Cynthia Erivo, coming fresh off her Tony Award win for her performance in the Broadway adaptation of The Color Purple, makes her cinematic debut as babysitter-turned-getaway-driver Belle. After this performance and her appearance in Bad Times at the El Royale, I look forward to seeing Erivo more often on the big screen. Praise to Elizabeth Debicki as well, probably most recognizable from her role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (despite her noted lack of gold make-up). Erivo and Debicki stand-out in this stacked cast, an impressive feat in of itself, and make for a more layered viewing experience.
But it’s not just the cast that is worth lauding here. McQueen approaches Widows, his first crime thriller, with a steady hand. Balancing a busy script that hits the audience with reversal after reversal with a more meditative look at urban American life in the modern era, McQueen looks at personal greed and the struggle to stay afloat when the world is run by men who are dictated by that greed. Viola Davis’s Veronica Rawlings and her not-so-merry band of widows represent the underdogs of this world, fighting for their place. They attempt to pull off this heist not because it’s fun or because it will break up the monotony of their lives, but because they must to survive.
Unfortunately, I do worry that Widows may not see its due this awards season, being overlooked for more obvious, but less spectacular choices, for certain accolades. However, there was one film this year that could rightfully stand-up to Widows. What is it? Check back tomorrow for the eagerly awaited Number 1 spot!
Simon Ong is a screenwriting student at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Find the rest of his list here: #3-4, #5-6, #7-8, and #9-10.