Interesting fact, did you know that this movie is actually based on a British tv series? Yeah, same name, same basic premise, even a few of the same twists from what I’ve heard. I’ve never seen the original series, heck only really heard about it as a bit of trivia when I was looking up stuff about the movie, but it’s the kind of fact that I’m really glad I learned because it really helped me put my finger on the button as to how I felt about this film.
Specifically, Spike Lee’s Widows would make for an excellent TV miniseries. But as a feature length movie… it has issues.
See, the reason that learning about Widows’s original existence as a TV series was such a eureka moment for me is because this movie is absolutely chock full of characters and subplots. Tons of them. Too many, even. There’s the Widows, their heist plan, each of their three (later four) various lives and problems, the Alderman election subplot with Colin Farrell’s sleazy politician, Jack Mulligan, facing off against Brian Tyree Henry’s more-down-to earth crime lord, Jamal Manning, Jamal’s brother (played in memorable form by Daniel Kaluuya) investigating the robbery and threatening the various widows, a few dozen smaller things like Veronica’s chauffeur and so on and so forth, without even getting into some of the later twists and turns in the movie. It’s so so much and there’s barely room for much of it.
However, this thing is that all of these subplots and almost all of these characters are… well… actually really good. Outstanding actually. Taken on their own, I was legitimately interested in almost every single one. And were they given room to be fleshed out and paced properly in a miniseries, it would probably be a fantastic show. But the limits of a 2h running length means they end up feeling squashed, pushed aside and in several cases not really tied up all that well. Jack Mulligan and Jamal Manning, both majorly important characters with a lot of plot threads attached to them, more or less disappear from the back half of the movie and only get about a couple minutes of radio broadcast to sum up their stories. And Daniel Kaluuya’s greatly entertaining villain went out more-or-less like a joke.
Hell, there was an enormous twist partway through the movie involving one character’s fate that should’ve had an enormous impact on almost every storyline in the movie. And what did that twist amount to? One tragic but ultimately removeable scene near the end. It felt like such an enormous waste, simply because the movie was already too bloated and packed with content to really do anything with it. The pacing didn’t amazingly help either. I spent the first half of the movie going ‘Okay, I really like this Alderman Election plot, but shouldn’t we be getting more into the Widows Heist thing by now?’ and the second half of the movie going ‘Okay, I really like this Widows Heist plotline, but what’s happening with the Alderman Election thing we spend so much time on?’ It’s kind of a problem, in case you couldn’t tell.
Now if it feels like I’m harping on this one issue, it’s probably because I am. But there’s good reason for it. Because it really feels like this one issue was a large part of what made this movie just ‘pretty good’ rather than ‘legitimately great’. Because, like I said, there really is a lot I legitimately really love about this movie. Steve McQueen is an excellent director and has a lot of meaningful statements and messages to make about race and society that he gets across really well a lot of the time. The cast is almost uniformly great, the movie is tense when it needs to be, it doesn’t fall heavily into heist movie cliches and the various politicking and character interactions are a joy to watch.
But as good as all those elements are (and trust me, they are good) they never feel like they quite fit together in the movie as well as they should, like the framework is a box that’s just a little too small to stack them comfortably in. As a result, as much as I may like certain elements, they never quite have the power or strength or time to explore them and their consequences that they really like they should have.
So yeah, to sum up, Widows is not a bad movie. On the contrary, I’d say it’s actually a fairly good movie. However, I’d also say it’s a great miniseries stuck in a good movie. So kinda like a reverse Marvel Netflix series, if that makes sense. Then again, if it actually had been made into a miniseries I probably wouldn’t have watched it since I’m already waaaay too behind on popular TV these days, so I guess either way I’d probably never see the perfect version of this story. Ah well.
Overall Grade: B+/B