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Movie Review

The death of a loved one is always difficult. The grief can be overwhelming. The loss can feel like a hole impossible to heal.

Veronica knows how crippling grief can be. Years ago, she lost her son. Now, she's wearing black again—this time for her husband, Harry, a successful criminal whose luck finally ran out. A job went awry. The police found his hideaway. Dozens of bullets and several explosions later, he and his crew were gone: ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But some of those ashes, Veronika learns, were once a pile of money—$2 million, in fact, the campaign war chest of Jamal Manning, would-be alderman for Chicago's impoverished 18th District. Jamal, a former gang leader, saw that money as a ticket to respectability, a way to legitimize himself. Now that it's gone, though, his old tactics may come in handy.

Jamal visits Veronica in her well-appointed pad and takes stock of the place—her books, her closets of clothes, her pampered pooch. He tells her he wants his money back, and he swears he'll get it from her even if he has to carve her up to do so. The money might've gone up in smoke. But to Jamal, it seems like Veronica's up to her earlobes in pawnable accessories, the spoils of her late husband's lucrative career as a criminal. He'll get his money from her, even if she has to sell everything she owns. She'll either give him cold, hard cash, or she'll be a cold, hard corpse.

But Veronica—who actually doesn't own any of the stuff Jamal sees—wonders a third option might be in play. See, before Harry left her, he also left her a notebook, one loaded with the details of every job he ever pulled and every job he didn't have a chance to complete. And Veronica finds a detailed outline for what might've been Harry's final heist, worth $5 million.

One catch, though: It's a four-man gig. Four experienced crooks who know how to crack safes and drive fast and, if necessary, shoot straight.

But could it be a four-woman job, too?

So Veronica tentatively makes plans to meet with the widows from Harry's old crew: Businesswoman Linda. Beautiful Alice. Shy, reluctant, Amanda. Sure, Veronica was never involved in Harry's business. But she's desperate now. And desperation can be quite the motivator.

Perhaps the rest of the team's surviving significant others are feeling equally desperate, she muses. If Veronica can just contact them, maybe they can pool their resources, procure the necessary gear and close the cover on Harry's notebook. Veronica can pay her debts and start a new life. Maybe the other widows can, too.

Grief always cuts deep. But if Veronica can pull off this caper—the first and last of her crime career—maybe she can keep the cuts strictly metaphorical.

Positive Elements

Widows feels part Robin Hood tale, part female-empowerment fable. The four women we meet here steal from the rich (and corrupt) and give—well, mainly to themselves. Granted, their methods aren't the best, but they're not after beach houses in Bali: They're looking for ways to provide for their families or to stay out of sexual servitude. For each, the money is a means toward worthwhile ends. (Which, it should be said, doesn't ultimately justify their illegal means.)

Spiritual Content

Jamal runs his campaign from a church (complete with a showy crucifix hanging on a wall). When his political opponent, Jack Mulligan, stops in for a visit, Jack calls him on it—telling him that his choice of headquarters is a violation of church and state.

Both, however, vie for the endorsement of a powerful, influential megachurch pastor, Rev. Wheeler. We hear part of one of his moving sermons as Jamal waits to talk with him; the ensuing conversation suggests that Wheeler is about as sincere about his faith as Jamal is about being an honest public servant.

All of the film's funerals take place in various churches, with pictures of the deceased gracing caskets and nearby tables. Linda, one of Veronica's team members, prays at a Catholic altar with her children before the women's heist. When Jamal confronts Veronica to get his money back, he quotes the Bible, asking Veronica to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's."

Sexual Content

Before Veronica contacts another widow named Alice, the latter explores being a high-end escort to make ends meet. Her mom actually suggests the "career change"—a career that she apparently knows plenty about. And when Alice balks, telling her mother, "I'm not gonna sleep with men I don't know," Mom reminds her that she was sleeping with boys when she was just 15. "Those boys didn't pay me," Alice snaps back.

Alice does become an escort, but her very first client pays to make their relationship exclusive. We see the two in fairly explicit sex scene, one that includes breast nudity. The two kiss passionately, but it's clear that the man, David, feels a sense of ownership over Alice. He often emphaszies often their financial arrangement and suggesting that, if she left him, it'd all be gone.

We see sortid pictures of an older man and a younger woman engaged in all manner of sexual hijinx. Both are obviously naked (we see the woman's breasts in almost all the pics), and in one photo she holds a crop and seems to tickle the man's nose with it. (We later learn that the young female in the picture was actually the man's niece.)

In flashback, Veronica and Harry smooch erotically in their shared bed, and Veronica steps into a shower already occupied by Harry. They talk, in sometimes crude terms, about their lovemaking.

Linda and a virtual stranger, both grieving the recent deaths of their respective partners, fall into each other's arms and kiss passionately before Linda finally pulls away, shocked and ashamed.

Pinup girls adorn a wall. (The camera doesn't get close enough to give more than a suggestion of their presence, though.) We hear a racist statement about how one group of people "can't stop making babies." We see Veronica and her friends wrapped in towels in a sauna. Some women wear cleavage-baring tops.

Violent Content

Widows' deceased male criminals die in a particularly violent confrontation with law enforcement. One is shot in the gut during the actual heist, and he bleeds and suffers in the back of the van as Harry drives. (The police are hot on their tail and fire dozens of rounds at them; the robbers throw things out the back of the van—including one of its broken back doors—to discourage their pursuit, and one cruiser does indeed crash spectacularly.)

Harry and the rest seemingly make it safely back to their hideout, but SWAT forces actually have the place surrounded: When the garage door opens, the officers open up withering gunfire, and eventually the van just explodes—incinerating everyone inside. We don't see the aftermath, but it is telling that every funeral features a closed casket.

Jamal's brother and muscle man, Jatemme, is a cold-blooded killer. He guns down two of his own gang members after they fail to prevent a robbery—one in the head, the other in the back after he tells the supposed survivor to run. He has a man apparently beaten to death, mailing the victim's ring to Veronica as proof that he means business.

But Jatemme's worst act of violence isn't even lethal. He visits a partially paralyzed bowling alley owner (who apparently owes his handicap to a previous visitation), throws him out of his wheelchair and stabs him repeatedly in the legs and hips and side, playfully discerning exactly where his nerves start working. The man's left a bloody mess by the time Jatemme's done. And Jatemme tells the paralyzed man he's lucky that the gangster was ordered not to kill him.

Alice is slapped several times, and she slaps someone else. And when we first see her, she bears the bruises from her abusive husband. (He tells her to put some makeup on the injury, because it makes him feel bad to look at it. "It makes me feel bad, too," she counters.)

Several people get shot and killed. Another guy dies in a gory car collision. Veronica's dog is held aloft by its neck, and its life is threatened. A security guard is overpowered and Tasered. Alice goes to a gun auction to buy several revolvers. She pretends to be a battered mail-order bride to get some help from a more experienced gun shopper, and when Alice's mark hesitates, the guy's daughter says, "You always say that guns are a girl's best friend."

Crude or Profane Language

We hear more than 60 f-words, about 25 s-words and two uses of the c-word. We also hear "a--," "b--ch," "d--n," "h---," "p-ss," "n---er," "p---y" and "d--k." God's name is misused about five times, and Jesus' name is abused thrice.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Harry and Veronica both drink from Harry's ever-present flask. We see that flask on a cabinet after his funeral.

When Veronica first meets her future criminal cohorts, they sip champagne at a swanky spa. Alice meets David for the first time in a bar. Bars and lounges also serve as meeting points for other gatherings, too, and many people drink there. We see an ashtray filled with cigarette butts.

Other Negative Elements

After Linda's husband dies, we learn that he had actually been stealing money from her business for years to pay for his gambling habit—culminating in his gambling away the business itself. (Linda only learns of his duplicity when she walks into the store and unexpectedly finds men repossessing everything in it.)

We see a great deal of corrupt politicking, especially by Jamal's political opponent, Jack Mulligan. The man's family is so entrenched in Chicago's notoriously corrupt political machine that he and his father see their ascension to local political power almost as a birthright. We also hear that Jack's under investigation for embezzlement and for taking lots of kickbacks (which Jamal also covets).

Jack's father, Tom, expresses racist attitudes (and uses correspondingly defamatory language). Others make some crass racial statements, too.


Rarely do we see action flicks as awards-season favorites. But Widows, if the buzz can be believed, may be the exception. Directed by Steve McQueen (who also helmed the multi-Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave) and featuring the reliably mesmerizing Viola Davis (an Oscar, Emmy and Tony winner herself), Widows deals with a bevy of important, attention-grabbing issues, from political corruption to police brutality to the many ways women can be overlooked, undermined and abused by men.

Despite the presence of all those issues, and despite the obvious talent found here, this thriller never truly transcends its genre. In fact, you could argue that, at times, it sinks below it.

Heist movies are almost always problematic, given that, by definition, they're about people breaking the law. But many, like the Ocean's movies, shoot for a PG-13 rating. They're not exactly family movies. But they're crafted in such a way that families could see them if they really wanted to.

Widows is a different beast entirely, filled with sex and blood and language galore. It's meant, I suppose, to make the flick feel more authentic. But really, is authenticity a huge issue when the plot involves four characters who've probably never even shoplifted trying to pull off an incredibly complex heist in a matter of days?

Yes, aesthetically, Widows is perhaps a cut above the standard heist flick. But despite its impressive pedigree, Widows is ultimately snared in its own web.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Other Belief Systems

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Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range



Viola Davis as Veronica Rawlins; Michelle Rodriguez as Linda Perelli; Elizabeth Debicki as Alice Gunner; Cynthia Erivo as Belle O'Reilly; Colin Farrell as Jack Mulligan; Brian Tyree Henry as Jamal Manning; Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning; Jacki Weaver as Agnieska; Lukas Haas as David; Cynthia Erivo as Belle; Carrie Coon as Amanda; Robert Duvall as Tom Mulligan; Liam Neeson as Harry Rawlins


Steve McQueen ( )


20th Century Fox



Record Label



In Theaters

November 16, 2018

On Video

February 5, 2019

Year Published



Paul Asay

Content Caution

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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