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Davis Journal

‘The Woman King’ Oscar-worthy, while ‘See How They Run’ just fun

Sep 15, 2022 02:21PM ● By Jenniffer Wardell

Credit for photo ©20th Century Studios

The Woman King (in theaters)

If you’ve been yearning for Hollywood’s next great historic war epic, you need to check out “The Woman King.”

Opening in theaters this weekend, the movie is just as monumental as classics like “Braveheart” and “Gladiator.” The story of an African nation fighting for their future, “The Woman King” powerfully delivers all the action, tension, heartbreak, and hope anyone could want. Come awards season, nearly everything about this movie deserves to be showered with riches.

Though it’s as full of fictional adaptation as most historical movies, “The Woman King” tells a story from the very real 19th century African kingdom of Dahomey. The stars of the story are the equally real Agojie, a group of all-women warriors who protected both the kingdom and each other. The movie also deals with the cost of war, healing from sexual violence, the values of a kingdom, the complex nature of family and even a little romance.

Viola Davis does an incredible job as General Nanisca, a very tough woman dealing with scars in her past and decisions that could affect a kingdom. The rest of the cast is just as good, with Lanasha Lynch, Thuso Mbedu, and Sheila Atim as particular standouts. Gina Prince-Bythewood, who also directed 2020’s “The Old Guard,” deftly balances the character moments with gripping, occasionally terrifying action.

The one flaw in the movie, and the only reason I can’t give it four stars, is the same problem that plagues a lot of Hollywood movies these days. Prince-Bythewood has directed some incredible night scenes, including the opening battle, but thanks to the minimal lighting I had a tough time seeing any of them. I understand the desire for purely realistic lighting, but no one yelled at the “Lord of the Rings” movies for giving us night battles where we could actually tell what was going on.

In the end, though, that’s a small quibble in an otherwise unforgettable movie. You don’t want to miss it.

Grade: Three and a half stars


ee How They Run (in theaters)

“See How They Run” is a better affectionate parody than it is a mystery, but that’s not such a bad thing. 

Opening in theaters this weekend, the movie is a loving, self-referential send-up of Agatha Christie-style mysteries. There’s a ton of detail that will reward fans of Wikipedia-style searches, some meta-jokes that are truly delightful, and a great cast with real comic flair. The mystery itself is only middlingly successful, but with everything else going on you might not even miss it. 

Set in the early 1950s, the movie starts with a party to celebrate the 100th performance of Agatha Christie’s play “The Mousetrap,” which organizers plan to turn into a movie. An interesting real-life fact is that Christie stipulated that no movie could be made of the play until six months after its run ended, and that the original run has literally never ended. “See How They Run” gets around this by turning it into a play-within-the-play, echoing its structure and commenting on its source material but never quite touching the original. 

Saoirse Ronan is a comedic delight, and her scenes with Sam Rockwell have a gentle chemistry that keep some of the sillier moments grounded. Adrien Brody is the other big standout as a Hollywood director brought in to make the adaptation, with a performance just as sleazy and genre-aware as a movie like this could hope for. 

Grade: Three stars

Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Utah Film Critics Association. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at [email protected]  λ