On the official day of its release, it’s crucial we propel Steve McQueen’s “Widows” even further into the awards conversation. There is no reason why it should be lumped into the same genre confines as other films of lesser complexity. Therefore, in honor of the biggest Oscar contender many never saw coming (a blindspot that needs correcting), here are five ways this crime drama deconstructs and subsequently revolutionizes the heist genre.
*PLEASE NOTE THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS*
Double-Cross Twist — Heading into any caper, there’s always a preexisting expectation that someone on the team is going to betray the group. Sometimes part of the fun is figuring out who among the crew is about to put a bullet in someone’s back. However, what’s so refreshing (and shocking) about “Widows” is how the double-cross doesn’t come from the women involved. While mutual trust can be wobbly at times, there’s never a moment of doubting their conviction to the operation. It’s imperative in this age — a time when women are often pitted against one another — that for once disharmony isn’t turned into a entertainment trope. Viola Davis, Cynthia Erivo, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki’s characters bring different perspectives to the table. Though they clash on occasion, their unwavering devotion to undoing their plight binds them into empowering, unbreakable codependency. Co-writer Gillian Flynn subverts femme fatale into femme morale.
Substance Exceeds Style — More than anything, this attribute makes this Oscar hopeful the Burj Khalifa of the heist genre. Not even Michael Mann’s “Heat” contained such thematic layering, encompassing a range of “hot button” issues without short-handing the women’s individual stories. The way crime permeates politics in urban districts of Chicago is heavily magnified. Furthermore, audiences are privy to the background of at least eight separate characters in the movie outside the main conflict. From the opening scene of an intensely intimate kiss between a black woman and her white husband that prefaces an operation gone awry, it’s evident that Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn prioritize the lives abused by corruption and criminality rather than the vices themselves.
Women of Color Lead the Heist — A true first in cinema, women of color are spearheading the operation. Even two black women of different socioeconomic class join forces to take back what was lost to them from our male-dominated hegemony. Michelle Rodriguez’s Linda Perrelli demonstrates the enduring strength of a Latina mother unashamed of getting her hands dirty to preserve her entrepreneurial autonomy. It’s unfathomable that it took this long for Hollywood to recognize women of color, working hard at home and in careers, are capable of excelling in the same “action” arena as anyone else.
The Score Isn’t Glamorized — How many capers exhaust the fascination of the “score,” the riches the heist crew gains from whatever they steal? It’s become a weirdly persistent way for the genre to justify unlawfulness. Whether it’s robbing a casino of millions or absconding with a priceless painting, the allure of the prize becomes an ego booster. Possessing this Macguffin tends to uphold the false virtue of toxic masculinity. Men are celebrated for taking whatever they want so long as they’re tenacious about it. “Widows” overturns that problematic plot device by not salivating over the robbery. The money is simply a way to pull the women out of an impossible financial situation with which their husbands burdened them.
The Planning Is Inelegant — One of the coolest components of McQueen’s masterpiece is how he doesn’t fall prey to past convention. There’s typically a stylized montage or long-winded explanation of the heist layout before it occurs. “Widows” is so grounded in the unpredictable nature of reality that it completely sidesteps such inauthentic flashiness. Real life is inescapable, often setting the women back and then having them regroup or re-strategize based on incoming variables. The lack of polish when it comes to staging the caper entrenches the film with integrity. There is so much riding on successfully pulling off the operation that to treat it as an “exciting” event would completely dishonor the precious lives hanging in the balance.