The critics raved about Widows, the newest film by British director Steve McQueen. McQueen won an Academy Award and many other accolades for 12 Years a Slave, a film I really liked. So, I was primed to enjoy Widows. After all, it received a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 4-star reviews from many critics. So why didn’t I love it?
1) The movie was at its best when it focused on the women. All of the political wrangling between the men vying for the Chicago aldermanic seat interrupted what I thought was more important, the widows and how they related to one another to pull of the heist.
2) I don’t like gratuitous violence. Much as I love the actor Daniel Kaluuya, his violent enforcer character killed people, often for no reason related to the plot. Yes, maybe the movie needed a bad guy, but I didn’t see the point of his gangster violence.
3) There were too many confusing side stories and plot twists for the sake of making the movie artistic, which also made it hard to follow.
4) I loved Viola Davis but was disappointed with how the death of her son was handled. Obviously, this explained her subdued, weary, depressed demeanor, even before her husband’s death in the failed heist, and her extreme attachment to her dog. In the interest of adding another twist or surprise element, the loss of her child received minimal attention. Yet, the manner of his death had a powerful message about race in America for young black men.
5) The heist itself was very short, which was fine with me. But it was so choppy and confusing that I was unable to marvel at the clever planning. And where did that extra car come from?
I did like a number of things in the movie.
1) I loved the women. The struggles of the widows and the driver who joined their crew were relatable to life for many women. An abused wife with low self-esteem. A woman who leaves her own children to babysit for someone else’s because she needs the money. A woman trying to make a go of a modest business undermined by her husband’s gambling debts. A woman consumed by grief over the loss of her child and the betrayal of her spouse.
2) The scene in which one of the women buys guns was a perfect commentary on our gun culture in America. And the fact that the woman driver dismisses the need for a gun because, of course, she already has one.
3) The fact that the female characters all need and acquire what Aretha Franklin called RESPECT. This took a different form for each of them, but it mattered more than how much money they actually acquired in the heist.
My first reaction to Widows was disappointment. After reading so many positive reviews which praised director McQueen and his writing collaborator, the famed author of edgy mysteries (think Gone Girl) Gillian Flynn, I was expecting to be wowed. Instead, I was confused by the numerous subplots, sometimes bored by the film’s length of over two hours, and disappointed by the focus on the mob-style crime rather than the everyday crime that plagues our city. Perhaps I judged the movie too harshly because I was expecting a masterpiece.
Upon further reflection, there were many elements of the movie I did like. Viola Davis and her supporting cast of women were incredible. The acting was superb. I’m left questioning why telling their story wasn’t enough?