FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2018 -- The biggest misconception of Steve McQueen's latest film is that it is a heist film. A heist film is a genre that revolves around "the planning and execution of a theft", according to various sources. Indeed the principle scene would be the actual heist.


McQueen's film instead is more about the empowerment of women, even moreso than F. Gary Gray's 1996 flick "Set It Off" with Jada Pinkett Smith, Viveca A Fox and Queen Latifah. But in that film, like with most caper flicks, we were more involved in the details of the theft. Here, we are more involved in the motivation for the heist and the character of those involved. Oh, then there is a quick scene of the heist.


Viola Davis is Veronica, a unassuming gal married to Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) whose certain skill set this time makes him a master thief. He is so good, they live a very comfortable lifestyle on the tony side of Chicago. His crew which includes Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Florek (Jon Bernthal) and Jimmy (Coburn Goss) are doing okay too, though they have certain flaws in their budget that makes them dependent on their jobs to support their wives.

Their wives are the fashionable Alice (Elkizabeth Debicki) and storekeeper Linda (Michelle Rodriguez). But when the guys get killed during a job at the beginning of the film, their widows are left on the hook for an expensive lifestyle and responsible for a $2 million theft from local thug Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry). This isn't good because he needs the money so he can go into politics against Irishman Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) who is the son of longtime thug alderman Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall).


So the film spins a story of greed around a core of old fashioned Chicago politics and always present Chicago crime. The story weaves a believable premise of the transference of power from one ethnic group to another with three widows suddenly planted firmly in the middle.


We see Manning flexing his thug muscles by sending his enforcer henchman Jatemme (the suddenly popular Daniel Kaluuya) to cultivate the other gangs and keep the women in their sights. Aside from the women deciding they need to pull of this final heist, there is very little detail in the planning as heist movies would include. In fact, we don't learn the target until the very last minute, when the women figure it out.


What we wind up with is a clique of women who go from being mostly pampered lives to suddenly victims to stepping up and making a "Me Too" kind of stand. And although Viola's character is the face of the group and the main focus of the the film, it is Debicki's Alice that grabs you attention as she as little functionality other than her ectomorphic model looks. Her relationship was far from perfect and she had to endure a certain amount of abuse to maintain her standard of living. Tossed in as a last minute driver is Cynthia Erivo's Belle character.


McQueen sets the film perfectly in the "other" part of Chicago. The part we don't see in postcards but has it's own flavor, nevertheless. He keeps the pace up and doesn't inundate us with too many plot layers.


"Widows" is a strong ensemble film that makes several statements about the power of women and Chicago's infamous political and crime scene while wrapping it all around a quick little heist.   -- GRADE A-  --   GEOFF BURTON