After knocking out a trio of heavy dramas in “Hunger,” “Shame” and “12 Years a Slave,” British director Steve McQueen decided to have a bit of genre fun in 2018 with an Americanized remake of the ITV miniseries “Widows.” The script he co-wrote with Gillian Flynn was crackerjack enough to attract the formidable likes of Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson, Robert Duvall and Daniel Kaluuya, but the stars of the show are Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Elizabeth Debicki, and Davis.
Davis’ Veronica Rawlings is in mourning after her criminal husband (Neeson) is killed during a botched heist. When she learns that he left behind a detailed plan to steal $5 million from a wealthy Chicago alderman, she enlists the assistance of the widowed associates of her husband to carry out the job.
McQueen’s film is a masterfully paced crime flick, but it acquires a righteous heft thanks to Davis’ performance. Veronica didn’t ask to be placed in this position, and didn’t realize the extent of her seemingly deceased husband’s treachery. In flashback, we experience not just the depth of her love for her husband, but the eroticism. It’s bizarre that this needs to be singled out, but, finally, Davis is playing a fully formed romantic lead, and she is on absolute fire. The only drawback to Davis’ casting is that she might be too formidable, but her Veronica is tender and broken and, at times, in way over her head.
How any self-respecting filmmaker could walk out of “Widows” and not want to exploit these qualities is both bewildering and par for the Hollywood course. Thank god Gina Prince-Bythewood filled this void with “The Woman King,” but the Academy deemed the film wholly unworthy of a nomination.
I look at Viola Davis, and I see one of the greatest actors of all time. I look at her career, and I want to burn Hollywood all the way to the goddamn ground.