Film review: Widows is an important, electrifying, grown-up thriller

Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning and Brian Tyree Henry as Jamal Manning. Picture: PA PHOTO/TWENTIET

Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning and Brian Tyree Henry as Jamal Manning. Picture: PA PHOTO/TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX Film CORPORATION/MERRICK MORTON.

To some, an adaptation of Lynda La Plante’s 1980s ITV television crime drama, based on the author and screenwriter’s novel of the same name, may not be the most obvious project for Turner Prize and Oscar winning artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen.

Yet in adapting it the director has delivered one of the most gripping thrillers of the year.

The film sees Harry (Liam Neeson) and his criminal gang perish after a heist goes disastrously wrong leaving their widows – Veronica (Viola Davis), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), along with driver Belle (Cynthia Erivo), forced to plan a robbery to solve their monetary woes while a tense election rages in the background.

McQueen makes excellent use of Chicago’s locations, masterfully crafting with co-writer Gillian Flynn a powerful exploration of class, religion and racial divides, all of which is sublimely captured by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt.

One outstanding extended shot focuses on the changing scenery as politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) is driven from an inner-city slum to his glamorous mansion.

It is the stars who truly shine though. Brian Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya are especially brilliant, exuding icy menace as crime lord turned local politician Jamal and his psychotic, enforcer brother Jatemme to whom Veronica finds herself indebted.

Farrell also excels as the double-dealing Mulligan.

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This is, however, the widows’ show and as good as Erivo is it is Rodriguez, Davis and Debicki’s moving and complex portrait of grief that powers this important, electrifying and grown-up thriller.