THERE is always a debt to pay in the underworld.

But director Steve McQueen looks at murky criminal circles in a wildly different way in Widows, based on the novel by Lynda La Plante.

The story takes place in the immediate aftermath of a heist, led by mastermind Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson), that goes terribly wrong.

When the whole gang perish and millions of dollars go up in flames, their widows are left with not just a husband to bury but a huge debt.

So Harry’s strong-willed wife Veronica (Viola Davis) convinces fellow widows Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) to take on Harry’s next job themselves which is connected to an alderman electoral campaign in Chicago.

Their aim is to not only make things right but set themselves up for a new life in which they are never again manipulated by men.

Widows starts and ends with a heist with a long build-up in between to establish the characters and connect the dots between the tangled political and criminal worlds.

But the twisting tale in which three very different women are drawn together is compelling throughout thanks to a script penned by McQueen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn.

Some excellently shot sequences, particularly the opening scene, remind you of McQueen’s beginnings as an arthouse-style director on the likes of Hunger.

And the film cleverly plays up the fact the women – strong and flawed in different ways – are entering a ‘man’s world’ in which they have the benefit of being underestimated and can use their feminine wiles to do some manipulating of their own.

Widows’ only fault is McQueen and Flynn being at pains to highlight society’s ills through the story.

From ugly ambition and corruption to prejudice and abuse, almost every man in the film is painted in various shades of black.

But as a pure gritty thriller, Widows pays its debt.

RATING: 8.5/10