The wives of slain criminals plan their own heist in . Following a heist gone sour, career criminal Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his crew are gunned down by police. Harry's death leaves his widow Veronica () $2 million in debt to gangster, turned politician Jamal Manning (), who is in the midst of running in a Chicago bielection for alderman against Jack Mulligan (), the son of retired incumbent Tom Mulligan (). After finding out that Harry left her his notebook, detailing the plans for his next heist, Veronica recruits, the widows of Harry's crew, Linda Perelli () and Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki) to commit the heist worth $5 million.

Director Steve McQueen follows up his 2013 Oscar winning film 12 Years a Slave with this adaptation of the 1983 British TV series, with a script co-written by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl). Widows opens with the heist gone wrong and these four criminal's death affect their wives. In addition to Veronica because $2 million in debt to Jamal Manning and his enforcer brother Jatemme (), who were the target of Harry's heist, but Linda loses her clothing store and Alice is encouraged by her mother Agnieska () to join an escort service. The fourth widow Amanda Nunn () has a newborn baby, so Veronica doesn't involve her in the plans for the heist, instead recruiting Linda's babysitter Belle (Cynthia Erivo) as the crew's driver.

On the surface, Widows is a relatively simple story about the wives of slain criminals, who decide to perform a heist themselves. However, the film is impeccably well executed, with many different layers to this story. This includes the moral ambiguity that is exemplified through the election that the plot is built around. Jamal Manning is man wanting to leave the criminal lifestyle, but the loss of $2 million in election funding quickly causes him to revert to his old ways, though he leaves it to his brother Jatemme to do the violent dirty work. On the flip side, Jack Mulligan is greatly struggling to step outside the shadow of his incredibly racist father, but it soon comes to light that he isn't necessarily on the straight and narrow either.

Probably one of the defining aspects of Widows is how the film is lead by predominantly female multi-racial cast. In fact, the very first shot of the film is of Viola Davis and Liam Neeson kissing each other in bed. This alone is a powerful moment in the film, since you don't always see loving mixed race couples in movies. Taken out in the opening minutes of the film, Neeson is primarily shown in the film through flashbacks, as we learn the couple had been dealing with some personal tragedy shortly before Harry died. While Viola Davis and Michelle Rodriguez were already quite established as gifted actresses, I do have to say that Widows is a major breakout role for Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), who gets some of the best moments in the film, including the hilarious method she gets guns for the heist. Debicki also has one of the meatier subplots in the film, as Alice was the victim of physical abuse by her late husband Florek () and now finds herself in a somewhat objectifying paid arrangement with wealthy architect David (Lukas Haas).

I have already spent so much time talking about Widows and I haven't yet really mentioned the heist that the film is about. Ultimately I would have to say that the heist is a bit of a macguffin for all the sociopolitical commentary in the film. That said, the actual execution of the heist is quite tense sequence and it builds to one hell of a climatic moment.

Altogether, I have to say that Widows is quite possibly Steve McQueen's key achievement, as he takes a relatively simple heist film narrative and turns it into something a lot more.

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.