The Atlantic’s “And, Scene” series delves into some of the most interesting films of the year by examining a single, noteworthy cinematic moment from 2018. Today: Steve McQueen’s Widows. This will be the year’s final installment of the “And, Scene” series, which can be found in its entirety here.
There are heists happening at every layer of Widows. The central story follows Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis), whose husband, Harry (Liam Neeson), died during a robbery; Veronica assembles a new team mostly made up of his crew’s widows and executes Harry’s next job to pay back his debts. But that is hardly the only stealing going on. In fact, Veronica and her crew’s theft comes at the end of a long chain of thefts. She’s robbing from Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), a candidate for alderman in Chicago and the scion of a political family; he, in turn, hired Harry’s crew in the first place to rob his electoral rival, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry); and the money being taken from Jack’s vault has been skimmed from corrupt government contracts he awarded.
In adapting Lynda La Plante’s 1983 British TV drama, Widows, Steve McQueen (and Gillian Flynn, who co-scripted) transplanted the action to Chicago and turned the story into an epic of municipal decay, one where the central crime becomes an act of reclamation and redistribution. Veronica is stealing from Jack, but really she’s just taking back money he took from the city; in the end, she gives her cut to Chicago’s schools, while one of her recruits, Belle (Cynthia Erivo), helps fund a local black-owned business (a beauty shop) in her neighborhood. But in one of the film’s most pivotal and telling scenes, which comes some 30 minutes in, Jack claims that’s all he’s trying to do as alderman.