September 16th, 2022
MOVIE: THE WOMAN KING
STARRING: VIOLA DAVIS, LASHANA LYNCH, JOHN BOYEGA, SHEILA ATIM
DIRECTED BY: GINA PRINCE-BYTHEWOOD
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The depth of character in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King is deep into the roots of civilization. With Viola Davis leading the charge as the warrior Nanisca, in a story about an all-woman tribe for the West African kingdom of Dahomey, fighting against a group of men known as the Oyo Empire, who take people of their villages and turns them over to slave traders. It culminates in the various battles and the way that one woman can lead her people; But it’s much more than that, as The Woman King often surprises with a more sensitive approach to each character, a more introspective look at how they go forward in the world they live, in the often punishing systems surrounding them, and their fight for survival. It’s about mothers and daughters, about strength and power, and it is an absolute triumph. The Woman King stands above the rest.
The pacing of the story that Prince-Bythewood and writer Dana Stevens (working off a story with Maria Bello) have brought together is an ebb and flow. It begins with a massive opening fight, with the women of the Dahomey rising from the thickets of grass, surprising an Oyo tribe in a moment of relaxation. It’s intense and violent but also a wake up call to the audience of what the Dahomey women are made of. We see lives lost, then their return to the village with praise from King Ghezo (John Boyega), where they enter into the gated community and introduce us to the main pair of warriors by Nanisca’s side- Izogie (Lashana Lynch) and Amenza (Sheila Atim). They are both incredibly skilled with a spear, willing to stay in their roles, but equally their own person. Refusing her father to give her away in marriage is Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), sent to be with the Dahomey warriors, but in a position needing to prove her worth.
It’s within these subplots where Nanisca must help fight back against the slave trade, something used as a benefit for King Ghezo, but a constant struggle for the two tribes- with the Oyo kidnapping Dahomey people to sell, while the Dahomey gain from selling goods to the traders. It’s an ugly circle, but Gina Prince-Bythewood does not settle for the simplicity of just fighting back against European colonialists, but makes it more personal. The internal conflicts are just as tense as the moments of war. King Ghezo’s conflict of putting his faith in Nanisca. The constant need for Nawi to make the right decisions when her life hangs in the balance and the impressive skill of fighting from Izogie and Amenza that will have you gripping your armrest hoping they never get a scratch. The various layers of the surface and underlying text makes The Woman King more than just a war film.
From the technical side The Woman King is everything. My only complaint was that sometimes the intense highs can lead to sluggish lows but it’s all not without purpose. The cinematography, costume design, along with the score, and a plethora of set pieces- including beautifully choreographed dancing- make it impossible to not take in every part. You add on top of that the fearless and ferocious power of Viola Davis and you have enough reasons to find The Woman King one of the best movies of 2022. This should be evidence that Davis can do everything, from Oscar winner to ax-wielding leader.
I’d also say to see The Woman King on the biggest screen possible and that factor is because of how director Prince-Bythewood has made something equal to that of large scale epics- similar to the work of directors such as David Lean and Ridley Scott. It’s an interesting step up after the standard action of The Old Guard but The Woman King is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a film about African warrior women, unafraid to allow these actors to thrive on their own, and a new avenue for the chameleon of Viola Davis. All hail The Woman King. We all bow down to her.
THE WOMAN KING IS PLAYING IN THEATERS FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 16TH, 2022
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady