The Sunday Mail
AS the year comes to an end, I usually pull out the old trusted template.
I either start looking at next year’s upcoming hits or simply review the year’s movies.
However, rather than give you some countdown or my holiday picks, I have decided to flip the script and do something a little different.
I want to take some time and shine a little light on a movie that could possibly be the sleeper hit of the year — “The Woman King”.
It might lack the financial muscle of blockbusters like “Dr Strange into the Multiverse of Madness”, “Black Adam”, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Jurassic World: Dominion” or carry their star power and hype, but this is one movie that delivers in performance, storytelling, action and everything in between. It also stars Viola Davis as you have never seen her before.
Set in the West African kingdom of Dahomey in 1823, “The Woman King” stars Davis as Nanisca, leader of the all-female group of warriors called the Agojie.
The Agojie are the trusted guards of King Ghezo of Dahomey – played by Brit John Boyega – as he wages war against the Oyo Empire. This happens as he navigates the threats of the slave trade by the Portuguese.
The Agojie go on a recruitment drive in a bid to strengthen their forces.
This leads to the introduction of Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), a free-spirited young woman brought to the camp by her parents when she refuses to marry any of the suitors that come calling.
Much of the Agojie tradition is seen through Nawi as she goes through her training and quickly becomes one of the army’s brightest and most talented fighters.
During her training, she forms two key friendships, first, with her trainer Izogie, and later, with leader Nanisca, who sees a lot of herself in this young trainee.
The action is top-notch, something that is made even more impressive when one discovers that most of the actors and actresses perform their own stunts.
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood cranks it to a hundred during the action set pieces when the Oyo Empire, led by Jimmy Odukoya’s General Oba Ade, comes calling.
However, rather than make it a full-on war movie, “The Woman King” makes the dynamics among three strong-willed women — Nanisca, Nawi and Izogie — play out before our very eyes.
Also, the women behind these three characters put up great performances, with Davis head and shoulders above the rest.
In Nanisca, Davis shows a great grasp of her role, with the character coming out as both brave and strong, but also very vulnerable.
Nanisca has strong links with General Oba Ade, who was one of her captors. He was also one of the men who raped her when she was young and held captive by the Oyo.
Much like she has done in the greatest part of her career, Davis delivers a five-star performance, which really is the film’s biggest strength.
She also has great chemistry with her co-star Mbedu, who delivers what could be a breakout performance. This could see bosses of big Hollywood studios knock at her door for future projects.
The film is a fictionalised take of real events. Maria Bello, who wrote the screenplay, does a great job in blending action with plenty of heart and drama.
With the exception of Boyega’s terrible accent and minimal role, “The Woman King” comes as close to perfection as any low-budget film could be, and should be on every avid movie-goer’s playlist.
The film is currently doing rounds at Ster-Kinekor theatres, and is a must-see.