Widows Attempts To Throw Out Classic Heist Narrative With Problematic Results

Tuesday 20th, November 2018 / 17:27
by Noémie Attia

The new Steve McQueen movie, adapted from Lynda La Plante’s eponym novel, doesn’t raise the bar as high as his previous features, although its theme could have been a game changer in the action movie genre.

Widows is a heist movie set in Chicago where the first thing happening is the death of all the masculine characters who would have typically been the centre of attention. So the film is beginning with the end of most Ocean’s Eleven-like movies, yielding the narrative space to the ones remaining: the wives of those ruthless, not-so-loving husbands. Except the four widows are left with a heavy legacy from their beloved. Veronica (Viola Davis), reaches out to the other widows in order to perform their deceased husband’s last larceny before retirement, to pay off a threatening crime boss (Bryan Tyree Henry).

Widows could have been a great intersectional feminist film, with an impeccable representation of diverse ethnicities and strong female characters. However, it is problematic in the way that men are still very much at the centre of the action, even in their absence. The women proceed according to the blueprints left by Vero’s husband, Harry (Liam Neeson), and are ridiculed by their lack of experience, making the audience laugh at very awkward and unintended comedic sequences.

The complicated scenario barely stands up, reusing all the archetypal action movie tropes that bored us in the nineties. And it adds up to a slapdash, incoherent cinematography. The style constantly changes: jump cuts, sequence shots, experimental, off-centered takes… Although well achieved, it’s hard to draw meaning from these cinematic attempts that are badly timed, removing from their aesthetic quality. McQueen tried to evoke too many narrative techniques and topics in a two-hour long movie.

One can easily see McQueen’s intent: shifting the action movie genre with a dash of feminism and a splash of Black Lives Matter. However, probably fearing his film wouldn’t please broad audiences, McQueen barely touches the tip of these crucial matters that would have made the feature all the more relevant in our time of flourishing popular uprising. How can one make a feminist movie without creating believable, multidimensional female characters? How can one denounce police violence with one simplistic thirty-second sequence, coming out of nowhere, of a black man shot in front of Obama posters? McQueen’s symbolic attempts end up falling into disappointing clichés.

Widows seems to confound the complexity of social issues with the complication of its narrative. All of that makes a half comedic, half nineties-style heist movie with way too many main characters and unfulfilled topics. Despite its moving ending and endearing, strong females, Widows doesn’t succeed in blowing up the patriarchy with a simple truck explosion. It would take more female directors of colour to actually shoot the white man dead in action movies.