Critics pile on praise for ‘The Woman King’: Viola Davis proves action and acting can coexist

After screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, “The Woman King” starring Oscar winner Viola Davis hits theaters on September 16. The epic drama directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood tells the tale of the West African kingdom of Dahomey and the incredible all-female group of warriors known as the Agojie who protected the land from the 17th to 19th centuries. Starring alongside Davis are Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, and John Boyega. With a score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, there is plenty of Oscar buzz in Hollywood for this Sony Pictures Tristar release. Below is a glimpse of what critics are saying. 

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Chris Bumbray of JoBlo’s Movie Network states, “’The Woman King’ is a movie Viola Davis proudly called her magnum opus at CinemaCon, earlier this year.” She was not kidding. “A thoughtful and beautifully directed epic, The Woman King is terrifically entertaining, even if it gets bogged down by an extraneous romantic subplot and the PG-13 rating, which makes the action sequences tamer than they should be.” The cast is praised but Davis is the star attraction here with a performance that is bound for awards season conversations. Mbedu “has a lot of charisma and presence, in addition to nailing the action scenes by adopting a unique style of fighting we see her come up with throughout the movie.” Mbedu and Jordan Bolger are given a romantic subplot that is not as strong as the rest of the film and is more of a distraction. “The relationships between the Agojie were enough; it didn’t need extra romance taking up running time that would have been better used on some of the other new Agojie recruits.” 

Kate Sánchez of But Why Tho? A Geek Community praises the film for the “balance of action” and says “the emotion captured in the fray, the survival, and death shows a skilled eye for understanding that an action sequence is never just a fight, but rather a moment to tell a story packed with emotion.” Mbedu is praised but at the end of the day, this is Davis’s movie “and her artful control of her face, her voice, and her body are breathtaking.” In the end, “The Woman King is a fantastic film that not only shows exactly why Gina Prince-Blythewood should helm action and drama alike, but also that Viola can easily best any action star on the screen.” 

Carla Hay of Culture Mix begins by stating the film “is sometimes cluttered and uneven, but the movie’s compelling performances, gripping action and inspiring personal stories can keep most viewers interested.” Davis and Boyega are praised for their performance and the reviewer notes that Davis should have been on screen even more than she is currently. After explaining a bit of the plot, Hay states that the film includes “some intense battle scenes and depictions of enslavement that might be too hard to watch for very sensitive viewers.”

Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post begins with a thought provoking statement. ““The Woman King” marks a ceasefire between two long-warring foes: Action and acting.” Proving that action and acting can coexist without being over the top, “we are whisked back to the glory days of the 1980s and ‘90s when big budgets, battle scenes, romance and drama were routinely mixed into one crowd-pleasing package.” The action scenes are praised. “Unsparing yet graceful, they wake you up and grab you by the collar. They pile up bodies like Davis piles up Oscar nods.” Calling the film an ensemble effort amongst the cast, Davis shines the most giving “the sort of powerful, stoic, tormented performance we’ve come to expect from her after triumphant turns in “Doubt,” “Fences” and “How To Get Away With Murder.” 

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