Widows (15)

YOU only have to look at the last few decades of cinema alone to know that the heist story is one dominated by men and their egos, machismo and aggression.

Widows – loosely adapted by Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame, 12 Years A Slave) from the 1980s Lynda La Plante TV series – feels like it aims to shoot a massive hole right through that preconception with a plot that right away literally kills off the men (played by the likes of Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, who appear thereafter in flashback) after a daring heist.

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This leaves, as the title suggests, the widows to pick up the pieces. Gangster-turned-politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who is running against duplicitous career politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), turns up at the expensive door of the widowed Veronica (Viola Davis) looking for the $2 million that her late husband Harry (Neeson) stole from him.

Using her husband’s notebook as a blueprint, Veronica takes it upon herself to contact the other widows – including struggling shop owner and mother Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and abused Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) – in order to pull off the next job her husband had planned.

Co-written by McQueen and Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn, this is an engrossing, meaty, tightly wound crime picture. While far from a frothy caper, it entwines old-school pleasures of the heist theme with murky macro politics, subversions of gender expectations and intimate character studies. Alongside this year’s Ocean’s 8, it’s refreshing to see women take charge in such a story.

McQueen brings a fresh angle as he reworks familiar tropes into something that feels contemporary, unpredictable, vibrant and dangerous.

He makes great authentic use of Chicago locations upon which he projects a complex picture of corruption, greed, ruthless ambition, religion, class warfare and female empowerment-fuelled determination. It’s all contained within a plot that subverts audience expectations with witty precision.

It benefits from a stonking cast all on top form. Highlights include Davis giving a wonderfully textured portrayal as the group leader whose no-nonsense stoicism when doling out assignments stands in contrast to her confused grief. Debicki smashes through cliché with a complex portrayal of a woman standing her ground after a marriage of abuse and subservience. And Daniel Kaluuya is as magnetic as he is terrifying as Manning’s enforcer brother.

Those performances and McQueen’s deft directorial handling of thrills mixed with larger themes make sure this superior crime saga stands out from the crowd.