Wednesday, 2 November 2016

'Queen of Katwe' Review

When you think of sports movies, you think of inspiring, uplifting stories as one struggles to overcome the odds. Chess isn't exactly what comes to your mind when you would think about sports adaptable for the big screen. However, 'Queen of Katwe' shows that it can work, matching others with its great story.

Living in the poor area of Katwe, Uganda, a young girl named Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) and her family struggle in the slums. One day, she meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a generous man who teaches poor children how to play chess. Phiona soon becomes invested in the game and under Katende's tuition, she becomes his top student winning local tournaments. The opportunity to compete all over the world gives Phiona a chance to create a better life for her and her family.

As with many sports movies, the film follows the same story and even contains some of the basic plot lines. However, this is fine if they are done well and are effective. We see sports movies where someone rises from a poor area with all odds seeming against them. This is improved on drastically in this film as the situation in Katwe is a lot more deprived than even the most deprive areas in more developed countries. The terrible housing, lack of food and no schooling for children are only a few problems that Phiona and her family face as we see them really struggle. The film is set from the late 00's to the start of the current decade, showing that these conditions exist even today. This seems very realistic as we all know that many suffer in these conditions, which draws sympathy immediately from the audience.

Despite these situations that the children find themselves in, the kids don't struggle to find enjoyment out of the littlest things. This is the only way of life that they know which is equally as heartbreaking. The film even uses the children reacting to things we take for granted for effective use. A scene is set up to show the children sleeping overnight at one of the chess tournaments which shows them all together on the floor, possibly showing the togetherness that the group has. However, the film shows that none of them has the luxury item of a bed, so just simply did not know what it was used for. A fairly powerful yet subtle use of showing these kids obliviousness to what is a standard household item to a lot of us.

'Queen of Katwe' uses a lot of African and African-American actors in the movie that really helps create the feeling of the areas. This shouldn't even be a surprise but in this day in age, you still struggle to find films that have genuine actors from the locations they are set in. It's good to see that Disney took the time to actually make this right as it improves the film drastically. Madina Nalwanga plays the lead character Phiona in what his her first feature film. Nalwanga feels a bit green at times throughout the film but for her debut, she did a fairly good job. Lupita Nyong'o is the star of the film as Phiona's strict mother who looks to provide for her kids. Nyong'o is fantastic showing great range as she faces tough dilemmas. She, of course, wants the best for her kids but also needs them to help provide for each other. Nyong'o captured this incredibly well with a great performance.

David Oyelowo plays Robert Katende in what is one of the most likeable characters that you will see on the big screen this year. Oyelowo also shows his class as the unselfish Katende who just wants to improve the lives of the people in Katwe. His story is an intriguing one as he also faces dilemmas between him helping these kids and his personal life. Oyelowo brings the feeling that Katende really cares for these children in a touching performance, showing a good message that you should always look to help others.

This is very much so a different approach to a sports movie, as it is much more story based which much less action of the actual game. The film does a good job at creating the story around chess, but ultimately, the game itself isn't that interesting. Usually, in a sports movie, the finale has a dramatic ending with the final match packing a punch. Due to it being chess, you lose a lot of the drama and it doesn't really deliver that much. Luckily, the film doesn't rely on this much as the struggle of Phiona and her family does more than satisfy.

One main problem that the film has is that it seems to drag on a bit. There are a couple of events added to the story that does not need to be. It seemed in the last third that they were prolonging the film just to get it to be two hours long. If the film cut some of this out, it still would've been equally as effective. However, too many subplots are added and it ultimately hurts the movie. You end up waiting for the uplifting ending but it just seems to drag. The film seems to try and make it more dramatic, but with the subject matter and main story, it already did enough to create an uplifting story. More is less and that was the case, particularly with this film.

Overall, 'Queen of Katwe' is a good, uplifting story that you may not be used to. Nyong'o and Oyelowo both do great jobs that elevate the film. However, there seems to be too much added to the film which causes it to drag at times. A film worth seeing that will impact in some way.

Final Verdict = 

So have you seen 'Queen of Katwe'? If so, what did you think of the movie? I hope that this review was useful for if you were planning on seeing the movie! Once again, thank you for taking the time to read my review, it is much appreciated!

By Angus McGregor