Gina Prince-Bythewood’s historical film is an action-packed masterpiece that perfectly balances tense action sequences with gripping drama.
Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King tells the story of General Nanisca (Viola Davis), as she leads the charge to protect King Ghezo (John Boyega), who rules the kingdom of Dahomey, a powerful west African state. As the Agojie (the all-women army that Nanisca leads) fight to protect their kingdom and its ruler, stories and truths are revealed about some of the Agojie’s most prominent warriors.
The Woman King works in the way that any historical drama or war film might. Its action sequences and fight choreography are impressive and cinematic, captured perfectly in pacing and tension. The peeling back of the curtain behind the backstories and experiences of those actually fighting in the war are gripping and compelling. All makes of a good film of this type of genre.
And yet, The Woman King offers so much more than that. Led by an absolutely stunning ensemble cast, helmed by the incomparable Viola Davis, this film allows the opportunity for stories that are well past their due time to be shared, the chance to be told. The film showcases a series of powerful women who manage to shine equally on their own as they do in an ensemble (a testament to the brilliance of the casting). The screenplay by Dana Stevens does a tremendous job of discussing the historical complexities around the Dahomey kingdom in the 18th and 19th century, while the slave trade was ongoing and ever-prominent. The film does not cut corners in discussing all the complexities of this era, while concurrently weaving through action sequences and war scenes that would even put a Marvel film to shame.
Among the other standouts of this film are the performances featured. Davis gives an empowered and unassailable performance as General Nanisca and is certainly worthy of Oscars attention. However, while Davis is well-deserving of the accolades and nominations that she’s received for this film thus far, it bears noting that the supporting cast is also well-stacked and well-serviced. Lashana Lynch stands out amongst the supporting cast as Izogie, a veteran soldier of the Agojie, showcasing a range amongst the films she was featured in throughout 2022 (most notably Matilda the Musical and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) that makes it evident that she is certainly one to watch out for. Thuso Mbedu also stands out as Nawi, a young soldier with a personal connection to the Agojie. However, all performances work incredibly well together, showcasing one of the better ensemble performances of 2022.
The technical aspects of The Woman King are also impressive and visually stunning. Gersha Phillip’s costumes are displayed beautifully onscreen, depicting the Agojie as the powerful women that they are. The cinematography and production designs of this film are also visually masterful, giving off the air of a Hollywood blockbuster in feel while still remaining human enough to keep reverence of the story and its subjects. Prince-Bythewood is also more deserving of accolades for her work on directing the film than she has currently received, which is unfortunate for a myriad of reasons, but not the least of which being she is one of the few female directors represented in the major award contending films of the last year.
Overall, The Woman King is a brilliant cinematic masterpiece, balancing a number of different elements. The colossal nature of the film’s story elements would make it easy to fall into the trap of doing the story a disservice, but Prince-Bythewood manages to create a cohesive and gorgeous film.
Should Have Been Considered: Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, Best Picture, Best Actress (Viola Davis), Best Costume Design, Best Production Design
Where to Watch: VOD
Lives in NC, where she is on a first name basis with the owners of her favorite pho spot.
Favorite Actress: Angela Bassett
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