For far too long, heist movies have packed their bulging, ill-begotten moneybags with way too much testosterone.
Sure, Marilyn Monroe shone bright as a duplicitous mistress with an alibi to spare in the granddaddy of them all, John Huston’s 1950 noir classic The Asphalt Jungle, but the blokes were ultimately in charge.
As with so many since.
Australian star Elizabeth Debicki and Oscar winner Viola Davis are here to change that, with the release of Steve McQueen’s brilliant thinking woman’s crime thriller Widows.
It joins the 2018 Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett-led Ocean’s 8 – which, with $US41.6 million, beat George Clooney to have the franchise’s highest ever opening weekend – in upending the male world order.
But as fun as that June release is, it’s unlikely to clean out the Academy whereas gritty Chicago-set drama Widows might just steal the show at the Oscars.
Adapted from the classic 1983 British crime series by Lynda La Plante and co-written with Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, Oscar-winning director McQueen (12 Years a Slave) has crafted an emotionally smart and viscerally thrilling genre champion that easily pushes the boys to one side.
Tipped to go head to head with Lady Gaga and Olivia Colman in the Best Actress category, Davis builds on her previous supporting win for Fences as the no-nonsense Veronica.
Married to big-time crook Harry (Liam Neeson), she turns a blind eye to his bad behaviour. But when his gang goes up in flames with bags full of cash in the opening minutes, trouble comes right to her immaculate apartment door.
Corrupt politician Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry) is running for office against Colin Farrell’s similarly shady Jack, who comes from a privileged Bush/Clinton-like dynasty.
Needing funds fast, their war rumbles along in the background, but Veronica refuses to be collateral damage.
Studying her husband’s notes for his next big job, she assembles the widows left behind by the male gang’s fiery demise to pull it off themselves, clearing their debts and setting up their futures.
The film is sure to dynamite-charge the career of Debicki (The Great Gatsby, The Man from U.N.C.L.E), who steals every scene she’s in as domestic violence survivor Alice.
Finding new determination free of her husband’s abuse, she’s pushed into another life entirely by her mother Agnieszka, played by fellow Australian Jacki Weaver, who excels as yet another monstrous matriarch.
The gang’s rounded out by The Fast and the Furious lead Michelle Rodriguez as Linda, who just wants to keep her dress shop open, and Bad Times at the El Royale breakout star Cynthia Erivo as bleached-blonde getaway driver Belle.
If Ocean’s 8 didn’t quite maximise on the potential of the gender swap, Widows revels in telling a familiar story from a different perspective, tackling toxic masculinity along the way.
Relegated to brief appearances, often near naked in the bedroom, Neeson’s role speaks volumes about the way women are so often portrayed in crime films. There’s a lot of fun to be had, too, in the central premise that the widows are mopping up the men’s mess.
McQueen plays gleefully with all the genre’s tropes, from double crosses to training montages, subtly rewiring the interpersonal relationships and motivations, all while two of the women juggle childcare.
When they finally don masks in the breathtaking hit, anonymity means gender disappears. As Veronica says, “No one thinks we have the balls to pull this off”. They sure do, in emphatic and blistering style.
Widows opened nationally on Wednesday.