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Widows First Reviews: Incredibly Entertaining and Surprisingly Poignant

Critics at TIFF call Steve McQueen's genre thriller well-acted, beautifully shot, and deliciously fun, but also thematically powerful.

by | September 10, 2018 | Comments

Could Widows really be a near-perfect movie? That’s what it sounds like, based on the first reactions out of the Toronto Film Festival, which put the film at 94% with 17 reviews. And really, it shouldn’t be a surprise coming from Steve McQueen, director of Hunger, Shame and 12 Years a Slave. He’s made more of a genre picture this time, but he maintains his reputation for serious, important drama even as he delivers his first movie that can be described, at least in part, as fun.

Check out what the first round of critics are saying:


How great is this movie, exactly?

[It] stands out as one of the most deliriously entertaining studio thrillers in years.
Benjamin Lee, Guardian

[It’s] a propulsive, artful genre work that finds something electric and unnerving in familiar material.
Norman Wilner, Now Toronto

[It’s] a new kind of heist picture, one unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and the results are mostly positive.
Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

Widows is a gem…some of the most entertaining film viewing you’re likely to experience all year.
Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

It’s not only one of the best films of the year, it’s one of the most enjoyable. Widows contains multitudes.
Adam Chitwood, Collider


But it’s not just about having fun?

McQueen does not deny his film a social message. The quickness and bluntness with which it’s introduced only deepens its power.
– Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

As often happened back in the noir melodramas of the 1940s and 1950s, an urban crime story here once again serves as a successful vehicle for exploring what ails a society.
– Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

McQueen has made a first-rate genre exercise that doubles as a treatise on race and gender, juggling dramatic payoff with heavier themes.
– Eric Kohn, IndieWire

In Widows, diversity isn’t an opportunity for showy tokenism or liberal pieties. It’s a matter-of-fact reflection of a city’s seething internal dynamics.
– Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

[It’s] a big, star-studded, entertaining popcorn movie without sacrificing character, craft, or heavy themes. Widows is, quite simply, the full package.
– Adam Chitwood, Collider

This is McQueen taking a juicy piece of bubblegum cinema and deconstructing it, piece by piece, into a drama with real weight.
– Christopher Schobert, The Film Stage


20th Century Fox
(Photo by 20th Century Fox)

What are some comparable movies?

Merges the blithe energy of Ocean’s Eight with the griminess of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

McQueen creates a hypnotic panorama of everyday corruption that feels less like a crime caper than like something out of a Robert Altman film or a Richard Price novel… as far from Ocean’s 8 as you could get.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

This is precision entertainment, a crackling, pulse-pounding heist movie…calling to mind heavyweight champs like The French Connection and Heat.
– Christopher Schobert, The Film Stage

This isn’t Steven Soderbergh delighting in the intricacies of the vault break-in in Ocean’s Eleven; McQueen is far more interested in how desperate these people are and in the level of corruption and despair that has led them here.
– Steve Pond, The Wrap

Its most recent distant relative being 1996’s Set it Off.
– Benjamin Lee, Guardian


How is Viola Davis?

Davis is reliably outstanding.
– Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

The actress has never been more commanding… Davis clearly has a blast intimidating everyone in the room.
– Eric Kohn, IndieWire

There is never any doubt that she owns this movie from beginning to end.
– Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

Davis has never been more dominant on screen, but she also captures Veronica’s heartbreak and moral uncertainty.
– Christopher Schobert, The Film Stage

Don’t be surprised if this garners her another Oscar nomination.
– Jason Guerrasio, Business Insider

Davis is typically fine, though Widows is unlikely to occupy as much real estate on her career-achievement clip packages as Fences or Doubt or The Help.
– Steve Pond, The Wrap


20th Century Fox
(Photo by 20th Century Fox)

Does Daniel Kaluuya prove worthy of his previous Oscar nod?

Kaluuya is mesmerizing.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Kaluuya is absolutely brilliant… a frightening performance that feels commanding and expertly delivered.
Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

A standout Daniel Kaluuya brings toxic menace to every scene he’s in.
Benjamin Lee, Guardian

Kaluuya brings to life one of the most terrifying villains in recent memory.
Adam Chitwood, Collider

Further proof that this major screen talent is just getting started.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire


And the rest of the cast?

[Michelle] Rodriguez finds a new emotional register we haven’t seen her explore before.
– Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

The standout player is Elizabeth Debicki, who brings pathos and humor.
– Christopher Schobert, The Film Stage

Tony-winning actress Cynthia Erivo makes an absolutely stellar feature film debut.
– Adam Chitwood, Collider


How is the McQueen/Gillian Flynn script?

The script is perfectly crafted with few cliches.
– Jason Guerrasio, Business Insider

The dialogue in Widows is thick with salty insults… [It] has the snap of witty danger that’s become Gillian Flynn’s trademark.
– Owen Gleiberman, Variety

While some of the dialogue is a bit clunky – Davis comes pretty close to saying something the equivalent to “There’s no crying in robbery!” – Widows thrives through its tight plotting.
– Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

Widows boasts some of the dark humor that was a highlight throughout Gone Girl. You read that correctly: Steve McQueen has made a movie that is genuinely funny.
– Adam Chitwood, Collider


20th Century Fox
(Photo by 20th Century Fox)

What about the movie’s visuals?

The film is surely a feast for the eyes, thanks to frequent McQueen collaborator Sean Bobbitt’s excellent photography.
– Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

McQueen and his ultra-adept cinematographer Sean Bobbitt find myriad unexpected ways of staging and shooting familiar generic scenes… The pair have come up with fresh ways to shoot expository and frequently close-quarter scenes all the way through.
– Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography is sharp, sleek, and haunting.
– Adam Chitwood, Collider


Any criticisms?

The Trumpiness of [Robert] Duvall’s character feels more than a little forced, an ill-advised attempt to shoehorn in some extra “relevance.”
– Jason Bailey, The Playlist

[It] may leave you hoping that [McQueen] forgets about ill-fitting genres and goes back to a film where he can care about the whole story, not just part of it.
– Steve Pond, The Wrap

Widows, while a highly original and entertaining variation on the heist film, isn’t a home run… [It] leaves you wondering what the movie would have looked like had it been a little more irresponsible.
– Owen Gleiberman, Variety

There’s so much to appreciate about Widows that it’s easy to shrug off some of the sillier moments.
– Eric Kohn, IndieWire


But it’s not just an enjoyable side-step for the Oscar-winning director:

Steve McQueen seamlessly transitions to a commercial film… He’s certainly becoming a filmmaker you can count on to deliver.
– Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

McQueen’s first out-and-out thriller — you could even call it his first out-and-out entertainment — feels like a departure in many respects, though it might be better understood as a progression.
– Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times


Widows premiered on Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it opens on Friday, November 16. Read all the reviews for it here.

#1

Widows (2018)
91%

#1
Adjusted Score: 102.169%
Critics Consensus: Widows rounds up a stellar ensemble for a heist thriller that mixes popcorn entertainment with a message - and marks another artistic leap for director Steve McQueen.
Synopsis: From Academy Award (R)-winning director Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave") and co-writer and bestselling author Gillian Flynn ("Gone Girl")... [More]
Directed By: Steve McQueen (III)

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