It is one of the oldest and most sexist tropes of all that husbands make messes and wives clean them up. Widows, directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave) and co-written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), spins that idea in a new direction.
Veronica (Viola Davis) is living a high-class, meticulously art-directed Chicago life with her husband Harry (Liam Neeson) and her fluffy little dog. But Harry's gains are all ill-gotten, and when he pulls one big robbery too many and everything goes sideways, Veronica loses him in a massive van explosion that also takes the lives of the rest of his gang.
The problem? The gang still owes a debt to the man they robbed, and if there's a debt harder to get rid of than your student loans, it's the money you owe to an operator as merciless as Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). Manning is himself a criminal, running for alderman against incumbent Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). Politics, of course, takes money. So Jamal both wants and needs his $2 million back, and he expects Veronica—and the widows of the other three men who died in the robbery, if necessary—to make good.
So Veronica goes looking for them: Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), whose husband's gambling debts were out of control; Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), whose husband was controlling and abusive; and Amanda (Carrie Coon), who wants nothing to do with all this gangster business and won't talk to Veronica. So she makes do with the team she has, telling Linda and Alice that if they want to live, they only have one option: carry out the heist plans she found in Harry's notebook. Get that money, use it to pay off Jamal—whose brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) glowers where Jamal placidly threatens—and get free.
And so Widows is a heist movie. There are plans to make, there are escapes to engineer, there are unexpected challenges to confront. At the same time, Widows is a drama about Veronica—who turns out to have a long and painful history with grief—taking her fate into her own hands. It's a film doing two very different things, and it's very good at both.