ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
The Agojie all-female warrior unit has an important part in African history and recently, the powers that be in Hollywood decided to tell part of that story with “The Woman King.” Set in the 1820s, the movie stars Viola Davis as Nanisca, a general who trains the next generation of warriors to fight an invading enemy.
I’d heard a little bit about the movie in recent weeks and recently, I noticed it came on Netflix and decided to click on it to see for myself what it was like. Ultimately, I was not disappointed with what I saw.
One of the first things that caught my eye about the movie was the fight scenes throughout, which was actually somewhat easy given how the first scene is a small battle. The fight scenes throughout the rest of the movie, however, are done VERY well and it was evident there was actually effort put forth to make everything look good both from a production standpoint and also from the performance standpoint. The choreography is smooth and graceful and actually pretty realistic for such scenarios, and the actors make everything look almost effortless. Something else I also appreciated was how the blood/gore was handled – I’ve mentioned before how I’m not really a fan of gore simply for gore’s sake, and while there was blood/gore used, it actually had purpose and there was a reason for it to be featured. I also appreciated how there was also some realism used in those scenes and in the moments where someone got cut or stabbed (or both, in some instances), there wasn’t a bunch of splatter as is typically depicted in other media. I felt like to an extent, there was also a “less is more” approach to these scenes, because while there was plenty of action, it wasn’t completely over the top. All that being said, my hat goes off to everyone involved with putting together the fighting and action sequences.
The performances throughout the movie are also really good, and of course the overall standout for me was Viola Davis as General Nanisca. Davis makes Nanisca absolutely fierce and unyielding (typical traits for someone in that position) and also gives her some vulnerability, which comes particularly into play about two-thirds of the way through the movie. While being fierce, however, Davis doesn’t make Nanisca a caricature in that regard and is able to make her a fully dimensional character. Another standout for me was Thuso Mbedu, who portrays new soldier Nawi, who comes to the Agojie after refusing to marry an abusive man. Nawi’s character is a bit of a diamond in the rough who has a lot to learn about being part of the unit, and Mbedu gives her a lot of stubbornness and rashness and softness that, like Davis with Nanisca, makes Nawi a fully formed character. I also particularly liked Lashana Lynch as fellow soldier Izogie, she makes her strong and fierce with a rather dry sense of humor. I really liked the almost sisterly dynamic between Izogie and Nawi throughout, and there were multiple moments between them that gave me a chuckle and made me think “Yep, that’s siblings for you.”
The movie is also really good from a production standpoint in quite a few ways. The cinematography throughout is done very well, and I loved the music used with both the musical score and also the handful of scenes where there’s the tribal chanting going on. The music really helps set each scene and there were a few moments where I couldn’t help but be slightly caught up in the rhythm and noticed my feet tapping for several minutes afterward, even if I didn’t understand what all was being said. The pacing is also pretty solid throughout the movie and there weren’t really any moments where I thought “Let’s go already!” like with some other movies I’ve seen. Much like with the action sequences, it was evident there was effort put forth to make the overall production aspects look good for everyone.
If I had one minor complaint about the movie, it would be with the overall screenplay. It’s pretty solid throughout, but there are a few moments where the story takes a rather dangerous turn toward the melodramatic and relies on typically seen movie clichés (including a potential romantic entanglement for Nawi), which dampened my enjoyment just a little bit. After those particular scenes, I couldn’t help but think “I would have been perfectly fine had that NOT been in the movie.” Again, it’s a rather minor quibble, but something I definitely couldn’t help but notice.
Overall, I very much enjoyed “The Woman King” and I would give it a B-plus grade. The action sequences in the movie are very well done and there was definitely effort put forth with them, and the performances throughout the movie are also very good, with particular standout performances from Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu and Lashana Lynch in their respective roles. The music used also helps set each scene, and the movie’s pacing is also pretty solid. If you’re a fan of historical drama and action, “The Woman King” is a good one to queue up.