THE WOMAN KING (2022) l Sony Pictures Canada | September 16, 2022
Starring: Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, John Boyega
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Featuring a thrilling performance from Oscar winner Viola Davis, this epic tale brings to life the true story of the Agojie, the all-female military regiment charged with protecting the embattled African Kingdom of Dahomey.
TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
The Woman King is an empowering and electrifying historical epic that is a must see on the biggest screen possible thanks to a phenomenal cast led by the sensational Viola Davis and jaw dropping fight sequences.
For her latest film, director Gina Prince-Bythewood and producer Viola Davis take audiences back to Africa in the 1800s to bring the Agojie, an all female unit of warriors, to the silver screen, delivering a film that is no doubt going to inspire and empower young black women for decades to come. The story itself is inspired by true events and historical records of the Agojie, following General Nanisca as she trains the next generation of the Agojie while defending their kingdom from an enemy hell bent on destroying them.
Thematically, there is so much in this film that makes the two hour and fifteen minute fly by as we see a new generation of the Agojie being trained, the kingdom of Dahomey come under attack from its enemies and the slave trade in Africa, in addition to the individual characters’ stories that speak to the place of woman in African society and rape. Each character is beautifully written, with the writers creating characters that leap right off the screen and into your heart. While the characters all share an experience and life as being a member of the Agojie, their individual stories are diverse and absolutely spectacular, covering so many important issues in a moving and honest way. While these women are warriors, much like Prince-Bythewood’s other films, these women are vulnerable and humanity to each of them which makes them all instantly memorable. Which gives the incredible cast a phenomenal starting point for their performances.
Viola Davis is magnificent as Nanisca, the leader of the Agojie. With every performance she has ever given, Davis infuses the women she portrays with a true humanity that allows you to feel every emotion they face over the course of their story, and she does that again with Nanisca. There is an undeniable strength to her, being the powerful leader of the Agojie which transforms Viola into a mesmerizing action star. But at the same time, there is a vulnerability she embodies that makes her character relatable and more than just the warrior leader she is. It is yet another spectacular performance from Viola, and one that is sure to garner some major Awards attention as she is on another level in this film.
Thuso Mbedu stars as Nawi, the newest recruit to the Agojie, and she gives a truly incredible performance. She injects the film with such an energy, vibrancy and strength that she immediately makes herself a superstar with this performance. Some of her best moments are opposite Davis, and the two of them make a formidable screen pairing in which they deliver some of the most dramatic and impactful moments of the film. Lashana Lynch is glorious as Izogie, one of Nanisca’s generals, bringing her dazzling personality to the film everytime she is on screen. She will have you laughing, cheering during the action sequences, and will cause you to break down in tears when her character’s big dramatic moment occurs.
And rounding out the exceptional lead female performances is Sheila Atim as Amenza, one of Nanisca’s other generals. Much like her co-stars, Atim is exceptional from start to finish as the more serious, logical general that aids Nanisca and helps train Nawi throughout the film. While in a much smaller role than his female co-stars, John Boyega gives a good supporting performance as King Ghezo. Everytime he is on screen, he does a wonderful job of lifting up his co-stars, not only giving a great performance himself, but elevating the lead performances to new heights. Of all the films of 2022 so far, The Woman King has one of the greatest ensemble casts!
From a creative standpoint, the film is stunning. The production and costume design is exquisite, bringing to life 1800s Africa in detailed glory, giving the film an authentic feel. The cinematography is wonderful, capturing some truly beautiful moments on camera with both landscape shots and epic moments during the battle sequences. Of all the stunning shots, my favourite has to be the opening shot of the Agojie rising out of the grass in the middle of the night as they are about to attack. It’s an electrifying shot that sets the tone for the entire film, making this an epic masterpiece in a matter of seconds.
Speaking of the fight sequences, the fight choreography is absolutely incredible. This feels like a superhero film at times given the intricacy of the fighting, but unlike so many modern blockbusters, there is very little CGI at play to create these jaw dropping sequences. The cast all trained for multiple hours a day to execute the choreography, which gives the sequences an added sense of peril and excitement as everything you are watching on screen was actually done by the performers, not created by a computer in post production.
And rounding out the artistic side of the film is Terence Blanchard’s musical score, which is nothing short of spectacular. From the first second you hear it on screen, Blanchard mixes African sounds with an epic movie score to create a truly electrifying score that energizes the entire film. It’s lush, grand, bombastic, and highly emotional when needed, making it without a doubt one of the best musical scores of the year so far and a big contender for the Oscar for Best Original Score.
As spectacular as this film is, it would be nothing without the direction of Prince-Bythewood. Prince-Bythewood has taken every aspect of filmmaking and combined it with heart and a focus on female centric storytelling, that makes The Woman King one of the most phenomenal films of the year! It will have audiences cheering in the theatre, laughing along as they get to meet these wonderful characters, before causing them to break down crying as this film covers every faucet of the emotional spectrum in the course of two hours and fifteen minutes. Whether it be the jaw dropping action sequences, the phenomenal musical score from Terence Blanchard, the outstanding performances from the entire cast but specifically from Viola Davis or Thuso Mbedu, or Gina Prince-Bythewood’s visionary directing, The Woman King is an absolute masterpiece that not only is one of the most exciting films of the year, but the first film in a long time to showcase the beauty and strength of African American women that will have audiences on their feet in applause.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5