Now for what DIDN'T work...... 1) The Story: is not only formulaic and filled with predictable tropes, but everything that happens from beginning to end is at the expense of believability and truth. While Widows pitches itself as a heist movie, there's no set-up, build up, or pay off for the heist. There is simply no struggle. Because the script never gives us a plan of the heist, we don't follow the protagonists through the process of preparing to execute a plan that may/may not go as expected, instead we just see the widows running around and buying guns and vans but with no explanation of why and how they will carry out the deed; and thus, the viewer is unable to emotionally connect to the potential exciting/scary trials and tensions of a planned heist gone awry. One of my favorite things about heist movies is that the planning involved builds the viewer's expectations for the undertaking, so by experiencing the process with the protagonists we'd immediately feel for them and want them to succeed. However, in Widows there is no mention of a plan, or a near-impossible undertaking that will keep the viewer at the edge of his/her seat rooting for the characters, instead it's just a given that there is some sort of plan in place that already exists and that is never really talked about or explained, so when the heist is in full swing, it becomes a missed opportunity to have manipulated audience expectations and to take viewers on an emotional, tense filled and action packed journey. This also eliminates any sense of real/potential danger in the film which makes for two hours and nine minutes of very slow and uneventful boredom. There is no payoff at ALL. I attended the WGA screening of this movie (followed by Q&A with Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn) and the screenwriters made sure to mention that they wanted the heist to be more "small time," they didn't want the characters to steal $20 million dollars, but rather a smaller amount that would be divided among all of them. This comment felt more like an excuse for why Widows' stakes were so low, and less of a commentary on how wonderfully effective "small time" crime movies can be. In a good "small-time crime" film, the circumstances and stakes are so dire that stealing $10 could have really significant consequences, and the build up could make it very compelling (and sad) to watch someone risk everything for a small reward. Widows fails to deliver on any substantial set-up that could lead to either a great pay off, or sad/violent/disturbing disappointment. A missed opportunity for the writers to manipulate audience emotional connection to the story and its characters. Another big issue with the film is that entire storylines are built up in Act I and then just dropped and unexplored by Acts II and III. An example of this is the story of Jamal Manning (played by Tyree Henry), who is painted as a crooked politician who serves as the catalyst/threat in the story that leads Veronica (Davis) to pursue this heist. However, while he does threaten her in Act I, Jamal's pursuit of this money falls by the wayside sometime in Act II, and Veronica's intention and reason for "going on this heist journey" (to pay back Jamal the money her husband stole, and to split the rest among the widows) never gets a resolution. She never has to face Jamal about the money, Jamal never comes back to claim the money, Jamal's entire storyline and intentions which seem to take center stage in Act I are barely mentioned or addressed by Act III. So the script sets up the audience expectations for really high stakes: If Veronica doesn't pay Jamal back the $2M then terrible things will happen to her (and to her dog?!?!) but then Jamal never comes back to collect on his threat, he never again inquire about the money that is owed to him, this storyline never really goes anywhere except on tangents and weak socio-political commentary.
2) Character choices are unbelievable, relationships are poorly developed and intentions are weak and misleading. Secondary characters like that of Jatemme Manning (Daniel Kaluuya) are given center stage and built up in Act I, only to conveniently be killed off in easy and uninspired ways without struggle. Another major issue is the character of Harry Rawlins (Neeson). After his death, Harry leaves his wife a key, and a lock box combination, that sets Veronica on her journey. It is the set up that leads the viewers to believe that Harry loved his wife; so much so that after he's gone he wants her to have his most important possession - a special "notebook" that she can sell to the Mannings for a significant amount of money. So while in Act I, the story leads us to be believe Harry's intentions are to "help his grieving wife," by Act III the story wants us to believe that now he's all of a sudden willing to kill Veronica for money (If Harry was willing to fake his own death and leave Veronica his most prized possession, then why all of a sudden is he willing to kill her for this money? Wouldn't it have been easier if he never would have left her the notebook to begin with? His intentions are so muddled and all over the place that it's difficult to take anything that happens seriously). Harry's actions feel imposed onto the story to create a false sense of drama, and to add shock value, all the while compromising the believability of the characters. A ridiculous twist happens in Act III that makes Veronica's relationship to her husband feel like it was a joke all along, one with zero history, and zero emotional depth which is a contradiction to how the writers set up their relationship in Act I. When we first learn of the love story between Veronica and Harry, we are led to believe the couple shared a profound, deep connection, a complicated romantic history, they even raised a child together, and experienced the shared trauma of losing that child, but nothing in the set up of their love story would lead any smart audience member to believe that these characters would so quickly try to kill each other without a second thought. Nothing up until this point in the story leads the viewer to believe that these to people don't care enough about one another to think twice before pulling the trigger. What's shocking is not that they are willing to kill each other, but that it's even happening in the first place. The motivations, intentions and actions are confusing and completely unbelievable.
3) The film is filled with convenient plot points that account for missed opportunities for dramatic tension and struggle. For example, during the heist, the women's van is taken from them (it's not stolen, it's taken because stolen would imply a struggle, and there is no struggle). This could have been a fantastic opportunity for action. The protagonists had a plan, the plan went wrong, and now they have to fix it and get their van back? Watching them have to figure out a plan B would've been interesting, they would've had to struggle to figure out a solution, but instead the film cuts to them in another car chasing the van, and magically and conveniently Kaluuya's character hits a curb/wall, and dies instantly, allowing the women to simply just take their money back. There is no confrontation with Manning. So while the script attempted to give us a shocking twist (with Kaluuya taking the van from the widows immediately post heist) the women didn't have to fight very hard to win their van back. They're also never chased by cops (at any point), even though there are gunshots during the heist, even though they are robbing an affluent neighborhood that likely has surveillance cameras and security guards, even though they leave loose ends at the Mulligan house (Nurse could call the cops when her patient Tom Mulligan is killed) but no, there is no one after the widows. Any potential complications that could make the story more interesting are never explored. There is never a sense of fear, or urgency. During the heist, another obstacle presents itself that is quickly dismissed. This happens when the nurse (Robert Duvall's caretaker) comes out of the bedroom mid robbery, at which point the widows decide to let her go back to her bedroom. In a film more grounded in reality, when the stakes are supposedly so high, and these women are supposedly so desperate and reckless, when prison or death are at risk, and their children could be left without mothers, WHY would these women let the nurse go right back to bed after being discovered? Are they not afraid she will call the police? Are they not worried she'll wake everyone up and they'll be caught? Apparently NOT. And in an attempt to make this feel like a believable choice, one of the widows says "do you think she'll call the police?" and another widow says "No that would be stupid" what is so stupid about calling the police if you're being robbed? It's just a terrible story.