THE WOMAN KING
Starring: Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Thuso Mbedu, John Boyega, and Jordan Bolger
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
All hail Viola Davis! Forget male vs. female led, this is one of the best action films of the year, period. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood has crafted a culturally rich story that’s fierce, ruthless, and emotional. Davis continues to prove she’s the most powerful woman working in film, while Lashana Lynch, Thuso Mbedu, and John Boyega give tremendous performances of their own. The one thing holding this back from a higher rating is the score. The African tribal music is great, but some of the generic “movie music” that is used really dulls the emotional punch of some scenes. That aside, a superb film.
The Woman King, which is like if Black Panther’s Dora Milaje was given the Braveheart treatment, boasts excellent action sequences and cinematography, but it’s really the performances that set it apart. Viola Davis is fierce, and while she has proven to be a certain kind of badass in the past, I never would have guessed she could pull off tribal warrior badass. She’s remarkable, but truth be told, Lashana Lynch (and even John Boyega) almost steal the movie from her (Thuso Mbedu is no slouch either). There are a few story beats that are a smidge too convenient, but this should be a major awards contender.
I really liked The Woman King…for the most part. It’s very well made from a craft point of view, mainly its costumes and production design, and the entire ensemble is really good. Viola Davis is, of course, fantastic…I mean, she’s Viola Davis for heaven's sake…but her co-lead Thuso Mbedu is also outstanding. The action scenes are brutal and well choreographed, but the editing can get super choppy at times. Although the story is nothing we haven’t seen before, this is still a fun time at the theaters, no doubt.
The Woman King has a few things holding it back from being an outright masterpiece, but it’s supremely entertaining and easily the most thoroughly African mainstream release since at least Black Panther. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s chronicle of the Dahomey people’s breaking from the slave trade is rich in cultural depth, set-piece thrills, and stellar performances, especially from Lashana Lynch and Thuso Mbedu. Viola Davis and Sheila Atim are great too, but they’re in it less than one might think, ditto the action sequences. John Boyega also provides another strong performance to his continually impressive resume, and Terence Blanchard’s score is excellent.
This film was reviewed by Nick, Quentin, and Adriano as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.