‘Widows’ features crisp writing, lacks action

This image released by 20th Century Fox shows Viola Davis, left, and Cynthia Erivo in a scene from "Widows." (Merrick Morton/20th Century Fox via AP)

Early ads for “Widows” quoted one review that stressed its “bone-rattling action.”

That is not an accurate description of this movie.

Though it has some excitement, I’ve heard several viewers complaining that the film was too slow; please don’t go to “Widows” seeking some sort of “heist film with women.”

No, this new feature from director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) and co-writer Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) is not an action movie, but rather a cerebral study of character, corruption and female empowerment. It’s smart, realistic, well acted and absorbing-yet also problematic in the way its women fight their way through an underworld ruled entirely by men.

The story opens with a burglary gone bad as four ambushed robbers are blown to kingdom come in a fiery explosion-along with their cache.

All of the men left behind wives or girlfriends–chief among whom is Veronica Rawlings, widow of the mastermind whose robbery burnt up $2 million stolen from a vicious would-be politician. Now the man wants his money back-and he’s willing to kill to get it.

Eventually finding her husband’s plans for another cash-grab, Veronica enlists the surviving women to carry out the robbery. Little does she know that this encore job is tied to the other one, creating a network of corruption and intrigue that features a couple of cool surprises.

But the best thing about “Widows” is its cast, with Oscar-winner Viola Davis working her usual magic as Veronica. Standing out among the rest are Liam Neeson as Veronica’s doomed husband; Elizabeth Debicki (“Guardians of the Galaxy”); Lukas Haas (the boy from “Witness,” now grown up and as watchable as ever); Cynthia Erivo as a latecomer who joins the ladies; a menacing Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out,” “Black Panther”); Garrett Dillahunt as Veronica’s likeable chauffeur; and Kevin J. O’Connor as a bowling-alley owner with a painful past-plus Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell as father and son in a long-standing political clan.

The movie’s other highlight is its writing: crisp, believable dialog and characters you can really sink your teeth into.

But about that theme of female empowerment: I for one feel this is getting kind of old; and in any case, it goes a little overboard on its cast crammed men who are creeps, killers, abusers and scumbags. Then on top of that, it asks us to root for women who have undertaken the same sort of lifestyle.

I’m sorry, but you can’t level the playing field by bringing everyone down to the same sad state of moral bankruptcy. Even as I acknowledged the excellent cast, script and direction, the movie left me queasy–the more so with its unnecessary graphic material (the MPAA codicil about “some sexual content/nudity” is an understatement).

“Widows” is worth watching–but please don’t check your conscience at the door; it might not be in the same condition when you pick it up afterward.

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