A handful of films screening in Toronto are putting their own fresh spins on the tried-and-true heist movie formula. We begin with the anxiously awaited Widows, the first feature from British director and Turner Prize–winning artist Steve McQueen since his 12 Years a Slave won the best picture Oscar in 2013. Cowritten with crime novelist Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects), Widows follows an ad hoc team of four Chicago women led by Viola Davis who aim to complete a job their husbands died trying to pull off. They have no choice. A local criminal with political aspirations has given them one month to come up with the two million dollars lost with their husbands during the botched heist.
At the Daily Beast, Cineaste editor Richard Porton finds that the screenplay “occasionally bites off more than it can chew,” but Widows, “as might be expected from a director known for tackling somber topics such as sex addiction (Shame), Irish radical Bobby Sands’s hunger strike (Hunger) and, of course, slavery, is infinitely more ambitious than the usual genre exercise.” Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov notes that McQueen “retains his signature formal tics (one character spends as much time running in Steadicam shots as Michael Fassbender did in Shame) but cuts much faster in a film that (unsurprisingly, based as it is on a six-episode 1983 BBC miniseries) feels like one season of TV crammed into 130 minutes.” At Slant, Jake Cole also quibbles with a few stylistic choices, but argues that Widows is nonetheless “McQueen’s most fascinating, bracing feature to date, a demonstration of the filmmaker embracing his commercial instincts instead of trying to pass them off as weighty and important.”