Review: ‘Queen of Katwe’ Is A Heartwarming Surprise
The movie, “Queen of Katwe” is a new film from Disney that seemed to come out of nowhere.
Let me tell an anecdote, I had never heard of this before I was asked to see it. I decided not to watch a trailer or seek out any real information about it. I didn’t even know it was from Disney until I sat down in the theater and really didn’t know what to make of it. After the screening, I got home and the VERY FIRST thing I clicked on to watch on YouTube had an ad for this movie… weird. Anyway on to the review of the actual film; super short version: it’s REALLY good.
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 4.5
So here’s the plot for “Queen of Katwe” it is about a young girl, Phiona who lives in a slum area of Uganda with her mother (Lupita Nyong’o) and siblings. One day she is introduced to the game of chess by a coach (David Oyelowo) from the local youth ministry. Very soon it’s realized that Phiona could be a child prodigy. She competes in competitions and has to deal with the changes she feels going from this very poor world to the world of professional chess playing. So yes this is a sports film and from that description you can tell it’s a fairly standard one. However, the sports film genre is one where it’s practically impossible to tell without cliches and honestly throughout the film other than how some of the upper class students acted (like a bunch of 80s villains with the shirt collars turned up) it came off as very authentic. The director is Mira Nair, a female Indian director who has done a number of films, but nothing too major. She shows herself to be quite capable. Ms. Nair does well letting the actors work while also staging and editing scenes of people playing chess, but keeping it exciting like a regular sports film. My only complaints with the cinematography would be they use a little too much shaky camera and especially in the beginning, the ADR (additional dialog recording) work is very obvious. And it’s quite clear someone in the crew loves them some rack focus shots because there are A LOT.
However, these minor shortcomings are overridden by the acting. I know this is a Disney feel-good movie, but a number of the performances really are award worthy. I sincerely doubt they actually will get nominated for a variety of reasons, but there’s no denying the actors are really giving it their all. David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o are the two big names of this project who have shown again and again that they are truly gifted actors. In “Selma” and “12 Years A Slave” we got to see this and if for whatever reason there’s some doubt in your mind that this is true, then I think this film will help change that for you. Lupita plays a no-nonsense single mother and we’ve seen this kind of character before, but she feels so real here. As the coach David Oyelowo takes a role that probably years ago they would have found a reason to hire a well-known white actor to play and shows why he (David) is the perfect choice. The scene where he explains something about his past (you’ll notice it when you see it) is so haunting and it all really comes from him. The young actress who plays Phiona, Madina Nalwanga is able to stand toe to toe with these veteran actors and could have a long career ahead of her. I just really cannot overstate how good the actors were in this.
Entertainment Value – 4.5
The film is a crowd pleaser and I don’t mean that as a way to tear it down, I mean it in a very positive manner. From the beginning of the film it really had me invested and for a 2 hour long film it definitely doesn’t feel it. The score from Alex Heffes is really wonderful. Like I said earlier this is a sports movie about chess and those chess match scenes never feel boring and I think a big part of that is the music. No really memorable main theme, but a number of cues throughout are very solid. I know from the premise some may expect a bland, serious film but it’s actually quite funny and exciting throughout. I must say it also has one of the most interesting use of end credits that I’ve seen. Sometimes in based on a true story films they’ll show pictures or video of the real people, (which I always love) but this is the first time I can remember them showing them next to the actors in what is essentially a curtain call at the end, very clever.
The best scene in my opinion (in the 1st act) reminded me of a similar scene in “Hoosiers” where the team gets to the stadium in the big city and they’re all so nervous and obviously intimidated by it all. So Gene Hackman pulls out the measuring tape to show them the court is the exact same as theirs back home. Here, we have a scene where the kids are being driven to a nice college for their first tournament and they’re all singing and having fun along the way until they see the college and how vastly different it looks compared to their lives in the slums and very quickly all the singing just stops as they take in their new surroundings. And it works for very much the same reasons in how it humanizes these characters so well. Also, I must say I enjoyed how this film showed how different and varied a city in Africa can be versus our preconceptions.
Rewatchability – 4
While I cannot see myself owning this film I do want to re-watch it. I look forward to watching certain scenes that will be posted on YouTube again and again. I hope this film is a success, though I must say I have my doubts it will really break the box office. However, if people just see it then I think it has a chance of really having a long life ahead.
- Entertainment Value
This film came out of nowhere much like the main character and has completely impressed me and I think everyone in my screening. A film that I believe will inspire and impart a warm feeling to its audience in a very honest way. There isn't enough to say about the acting from the performers and I hope all the newcomers do well and if there's any doubt about the bigger names this film will certainly dispel that disbelief. “Queen of Katwe”makes all the right moves and just the right times. I give it 4.5 stars out of 5.
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