It’s not clear exactly what kind of movie(s) Widows wants to be: feminist heist thriller? Sprawling political saga? Bare-knuckled gangster noir? Steve McQueen’s latest is so stuffed with stars, styles, and big ideas, it’s almost impossible not to admire what he’s going for. But the Oscar-winning director of 12 Years a Slave and Shame can only throw so much spaghetti at the wall before you wish he’d stopped at al dente.
A story centered on Viola Davis can’t go too wrong, at least; she’s Veronica, a former teachers’-union rep still keeping it sexy in her marriage to a man (Liam Neeson) who may or may not be a criminal mastermind. Within minutes, he and his crew are wiped out on a job gone wrong — there’s a reason this thing’s not called Amicably Divorced — and the surviving spouses are left to reckon with debts unpaid to local kingpin Jamal Manning (a softly menacing Brian Tyree Henry) and his sociopathic brother/enforcer Jatemme (Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya).
While Veronica works overtime to turn a harried single mother (Michelle Rodriguez), a moonlighting babysitter (Cynthia Erivo), and an emotionally fragile trophy wife (Elizabeth Debicki) into a makeshift suicide squad, the script zigs between concurrent subplots about the Mannings and a Chicago family dynasty whose dirty fingerprints are all over city politics (Robert Duvall is the mad paterfamilias; Colin Farrell, trying on a flat Midwestern accent, is his reluctant prodigal son).
It’s entertaining enough for popcorn — and gratifying, too, to watch these smart, strong women step into roles they’re so often left to support from the sidelines, while men have all the contraband fun. If only the execution of it didn’t feel like such a crazy-quilt patchwork of other, better films, and so jaggedly stitched together. C+