Film Review: Viola Davis in ‘Widows’

Speaking on stage at the Toronto International Film Festival, right before the premiere of “Widows,” his first movie since “12 Years a Slave” (which was five years ago), director Steve McQueen talked about how important it was to set movies in the world of real, recognizable human beings. A lot of us would second that sentiment, yet it’s still not what you expect to hear from someone who’s introducing a heist film. The genre has been around in a major way since the early ’50s, and the template has always been this: When characters get together to plan and execute a robbery, we may see the quiet desperation of their lives, we may taste an ashy undertone of cynical “reality,” but it’s really all about the trip-wire cleverness of the crime itself. Heist movies unfold in a caper-film bubble, and that, one way or another, is their key pleasure.

But “Widows,” as McQueen implied, is another story. It’s a movie in which three women, whose husbands all perished in a robbery gone wrong, band together to steal $5 million, even though none of them has the slightest experience at acting like a criminal. And the web of dire circumstances that lead them to hatch this scheme in no mere set-up — it’s the dramatic heart of the movie. “Widows,” adapted from a British TV crime drama that was first broadcast in 1983, has a script co-written by McQueen and the novelist and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl,” “Sharp Objects”), and it presents an enjoyably dark and sleazy vision of ordinary lives intertwining with the hurly-burly of street thuggery, local machine politics, and half a dozen other forms of daily corruption.

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