Wednesday, October 5, 2016

[Review] Queen of Katwe


Between Pawn Sacrifice, The Dark Horse, and now Queen of Katwe, it seems that chess has been a frequent theme on the big screen lately. Of course, these films are about more than just the time-honored board game. Directed by Mira Nair, Queen of Katwe depicts the true story of a young Ugandan girl named Phiona Mutesi and her rise as a chess prodigy while dealing with immense poverty. This Disney picture is a familiar underdog tale, but it's an inspiring viewing nonetheless.

Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) lives in the slum village of Katwe with her hard-nosed mother Nakku (Lupita Nyong'o). Phiona is a scrappy fighter too. Early on, she punches a kid in the nose after he makes fun of her body odor. That's where she joins a local chess club, led by Robert (David Oyelowo), and she catches on so fast that she eventually finds herself in the world championships.

The performances are all great here. David Oyelowo is solid as the stoic and likable mentor with a compassionate heart. First-time actress Madina Nalwanga's smile lights up the screen as the film's central focus. But it's Lupita Nyong'o (Oscar-winner for 12 Years a Slave) who stands out as the film's most complicated and emotional character, owning every single scene she's in. Another star of the film is the catchy and enlivened soundtrack of African pop songs that flourish amidst the colorful wardrobes and sets.

Sometimes the film is a bit too breezy and formulaic for its own good though, and the chess-playing scenes can be overly repetitive. That said, Queen of Katwe is still a vibrant feel-good story about defying the odds, representing your community, and embracing your craft. And dancing.

( 7.5/10 )

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