Corruption, crime and oppression are brought together in Widows to give subtle snapshots of US society.
This heist thriller is a powerful adaptation of Lynda La Plante’s ITV drama Widows. When the original was released in 1983, it turned crime fiction on its head by putting four women into the leading roles as criminals.
Director Steve McQueen takes Widows’ basic plot, then transplants it from London to Chicago to tackle race and class in the US.
After their husbands are killed in a botched job, Veronica, Linda and Alice’s lives go up in smoke.
Their partners leave them without any money.
But Veronica’s husband, the gang’s ring leader Harry Rawlins, has left them with a powerful enemy. Crime boss turned aspiring local politician Jamal Manning is determined to get back his stolen millions.
Faced with an ultimatum from Manning’s thugs, they’ve no choice but to perform a heist themselves.
Veronica, a black woman former lobbyist for the Chicago teachers’ union, is now used to the high life. Coming from a much more privileged position, she is the most confident and the driving force behind the heist.
This dynamic between the women changes as the film progresses.
Linda married young with two children. Now she’s lost her business to her husband’s creditors. Played brilliantly by Michelle Rodriguez, she grows in confidence throughout the film.
The same is true for Polish immigrant Alice. At the beginning of the film she’s trapped with an abusive husband and an overbearing mother, who suggests she take up sex work after he dies. She becomes crucial to the whole sting.
The criminal activities show that they’re part of a corrupt society.
These antiheroes are reminiscent of the hard-boiled cop stories that became popular in pulp fiction magazines during the 1930s prohibition era.
In Chicago the forces bolstering the Democratic Party’s corrupt political stitch ups are shifting.
Different self-proclaimed leaders rely on the same methods to gain the votes from whole community groups or knock opponents out of the race.
Jack Mulligan has been picked to run for alderman (councillor) in the 14th Ward.
He’s got to win because his father used to be alderman—and before that his father’s father—and the family’s power and wealth rely on it.
Meanwhile, Manning hopes to go relatively straight and be the first black alderman for the predominantly black ward.
The politics are never po-faced or worthy and the film effectively flits back and forth between the personal stories and the bigger picture.
One of the cleverest scenes is a flashback to how Veronica and Harry’s son was killed in police stop and search.
As the camera zooms in on the car, you briefly catch in the corner of your eye a row of Barack Obama “Hope” posters.
The next moment a cop has just murdered another young black man.
Sharp social commentary are coupled with plot twists, violence and action to keep you watching.