Saturday, October 15, 2016

Movie Review #502: "Queen of Katwe" (2016)

Movie"Queen of Katwe"
Director: Mira Nair
Rating: PG
Running Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
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A young girl from the slums of Uganda begins to change her world through the game of chess.

"Queen of Katwe" is directed by Mira Nair, who is known for her films "Monsoon Wedding" and "The Namesake." It tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi, played here by Madina Nalwanga, a young girl living in Katwe, a poor city in Uganda. She lives with her widowed mother Nakku Harriet, played by Lupita Nyong'o, in a little shack scrapped together from sheets of aluminium and spare pieces of wood. Despite the low quality of their home, they struggle to even afford that. Phiona has a couple of younger brothers and an older sister, and they all struggle to make ends meet by selling maize on the street. Phiona's life is changed forever when she meets Robert Katende, played by David Oyelowo, who teaches the children of Katwe the game of chess as part of the local mission's community outreach program. The children are taught chess and fed porridge every day, which is the initial reason Phiona and her brother Mugabi Brian, played by Martin Kabanza, start to learn the game. Despite no formal education, Phiona has a mind for strategy and takes to the game quite naturally. She becomes addicted to it, eventually getting so good that she leads the Katwe team to a championship and then moves on to compete at an international level. During her travels and time away from home playing the game she loves so dearly, she is exposed to comforts never before imagined, which starts to give her a negative perspective on her very humble, poor home life as she finally begins to realize and understand just how much she doesn't have.

"Queen of Katwe" is a breath of fresh air when it comes to sports films. This is a fantastic, extremely moving film that is both heartfelt and heartbreaking at the same time. The acting is nothing short of incredible. Lupita Nyong'o has become a favorite of ours since she burst on the acting scene, and she delivers a brilliant performance as Phiona's strong but stubborn mother Nakku, struggling to maintain her independence and give her kids the best life possible. Nakku has some understandable apprehension about her daughter learning chess, as well as the sacrifices that must be made in order for her to do it. She wears her emotions on her face and does a superb job conveying them. David Oyelowo is equally as impressive in his own right as a man who has risen up in life from a very poor, tragic beginning to being the top of his graduating class, to being someone who gave up financial success in order to help the less fortunate. The true standout of "Queen of Katwe" is, of course, Madina Nalwanga in her feature film debut. This being her first movie, we are absolutely blown away by her commanding, endearing, passionate performance. Nalwanga acts alongside the likes of Oscar winner Nyong'o and Golden Globe nominee Oyelowo as if it's second nature to her. We cannot wait to see if she continues her acting career beyond this movie.

At its core, "Queen of Katwe" might seem like just another inspirational sports movie with an underdog formula, only it's much more than this. It offers a firsthand look at what it's like to come from nothing and be exposed to everything, but in a subtle, unglamorous, non-grandiose way like Disney's other offerings, including the ham-fisted "Million Dollar Arm." Its very honest portrayal of life in the slum of Uganda that emphasizes the reality of Phiona's situation, giving it a unique perspective which sets it apart from all of the thousands of other movies that follow a similar formula. This movie sent us on a roller coaster of emotions, making us laugh, cry, and cheer all within the span of over 2 hours. It manages to be both sentimental and powerful, an incredible film to show the young daughters of the world with a strong female protagonist who overcomes great odds to do what she loves. This is a magnificent, must see film that didn't get enough recognition and didn't make enough money at the box offices.

My Rating: 8.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 91%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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