Widows offers a rare take on the contemporary caper and proves to be both enthralling and flat at times. It sees the widows of four robbers forced to finish off their husbands’ final job after they’re killed in the act. Viola Davis stars as Veronica Rawlins, the widow who assumes her husband’s role in planning the five-million-dollar heist and becomes the domineering leader of this ragtag group of women. Davis’s performance exhibits the nuances of a woman left in emotional and financial toil by her partner’s loss and the immense burden and strength required to carry his plan out. Michelle Rodriguez’s Linda Perelli, Elizabeth Debicki’s Alice Gunner and Cynthia Erivo’s Belle complete the rest of this group who are forced to pick up the mess in a world where they do not belong. The movie also explores the political battle for alderman set in Chicago that ensues between a local mobster and the new frontman for a political dynasty. The two storylines are connected through the failed robbery at the start of the film, which resulted in the deaths of its instigators and also set in motion the plot that follows.

Widows is not your typical heist film and director Steve McQueen goes out of his way to make sure you know that. Rather, it’s more of a social commentary hidden behind the exciting setup of a heist. The movie brings to light the existing problems faced by American society—that of racial tension, police brutality, nepotism, economic divide, and sexism.

McQueen’s directorial style has a hand at making the two distinct themes of a thriller and drama blend seamlessly. One such instance occurs when Collin Farrell’s character, a corrupt politician, is on the campaign trail and has an intense conversation with his secretary in the car after being harassed by a reporter. As he raves incessantly about the dreadful state of the community and his running opponent, McQueen chose not to show the actual conversation. Instead, it is filmed from outside the car, slowly capturing the gentrification in process in this community. The effect is a stark reminder of how poverty and wealth can exist in such close proximity. Similarly, he manages to elevate the intensity of the whole picture by heightening otherwise mundane scenes you would find in such a genre.

This movie is very different from the other heist films in theatre. Ocean’s 8, the latest addition to an already successful franchise featuring a female cast, opened to mixed reviews in June. Widows, however, sets itself apart from those overused concepts and set-up montages. Both movies came out in the same year, yet Widows got drowned out by the promotions of an all-female led caper. But McQueen’s film comes out stronger as it offers greater depth and a realistic tone to Ocean’s overplayed thematic.

The staple heist genre has come to be defined as having an all-knowing lead who is overly charismatic and ten times smarter than you could ever hope to be. They are out to show-up people with an undeserved sense of confidence and entitlement. There is cheesy humour thrown in with a memorable set piece and underlying adventurous tones throughout. It seems McQueen set out to dissect this conventional heist film and proceeded to throw out all the familiar bits.

Unfortunately, Widows falls prey to the same hurdles of every film with a 120-minute runtime. In trying to juggle the social relevance the director envisioned and the substance required to maintain the caper plot, the story leaves a lot to be desired. One can’t help but feel that the movie is unwritten in certain spots. Most notably, when it comes to Harry and Veronica’s relationship, how does a woman of Veronica’s savviness get involved with the likes of a criminal? With the kind of serious themes the movie aims to address, more runtime would have been beneficial.    

With all the plot points involved, one might wonder if Widows is an enticing caper or just a long-stretched drama. Nevertheless, the film’s variety of twists and turns will manage to contain the audience’s attention. By simply looking at the marketing, one would assume the four widows taking on the job to be Davis, Rodriguez, Debicki, and Erivo. However, that is not the case as you soon find out.