Review by Camden Ferrell
The Woman King is a new historical epic film from director Gina Prince-Bythewood whose most recent film was 2020’s The Old Guard. This movie premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film festival and boasts a strong lineup of established and up-and-coming actors. This story is large in scale and emotion, and it’s an exhilarating film that is strengthened by Viola Davis’ phenomenal performance.
The Agojie were an all-female military regiment from the African Kingdom of Dahomey, and this film is inspired by this group of soldiers and their role in the dynamics of 19th century Africa. The film follows Nanisca, a general, as she tries to train the next generation of soldiers to combat warring groups that are participating in the African slave trade. This story is rooted in significant and culturally rich history that makes this ripe for adaptation into a historical epic of this size.
While the movie is ambitious in its narrative reach and scope, the script remains humble and relatable. It does a great job of characterizing its ensemble and endowing them with humanity. Despite being a film set in the 1800’s, the characters feel relatable, and it allows the audience to empathize with their motivations and ambitions. The movie will surprise audiences with its unexpected emotional core that makes the movie deeply moving at times.
One can’t overlook the incredible cast assembled for this movie. Viola Davis as always commands the screen powerfully with her leading performance as Nanisca. She is entertaining, convincing, and as captivating as ever as she plays this general with great depth. She’s joined by Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim and John Boyega who all give great performances that further establish them as the talented actors they are.
Being a war movie, one would hope that the action and fight sequences are well done. This movie delivers on that front more than it doesn’t. The fight choreography and actual battle scenes are great and as brutal as one could expect from a PG-13 movie. However, it does feel hindered significantly by that rating, and it relies a lot on quick edits and clever framing to keep it tame. With a more severe rating, the movie could have been free to double down on the quality of the action scenes.
The movie is also well-paced. Despite being over two hours, it moves by breezily except for its final moments. By that point, the movie can overstay its welcome ever so slightly, but still revels in the emotional payoff that makes up for its flaws.
The cinematography of the movie is quite great throughout as well. It’s not mesmerizingly gorgeous, but it feels thoughtful and intentional. The framing and composition are creative and helps tell its story and develop characterizations and dynamics in ways that enhance the final product.
The Woman King is thrilling, emotional, and a great showcase for its ensemble. Every audience member is going to find something to appreciate and enjoy in this movie. It has all the culture and richness of a historical epic while blending in its own unique sense of stylistic and captivating action. Viola Davis proves to be one of film’s most valuable actresses yet again while also giving several other actors a chance to shine alongside her.
The Woman King is in theaters September 16.