Women Talking (2022)

by - December 22nd, 2022 - Movie Reviews


Powerful Women Talking Speaks with Courageous Authority

Leave. Stay and fight. Do nothing. Those are the options for the women of a small, isolated religious community in Women Talking. They’ve been waking up bruised, bloodied, abused, and sometimes even pregnant. But the men have been dismissing their concerns: They’re imagining it. They’re being punished for their sins. There is nothing for them to cry foul about.

Women Talking (2022) | PHOTO: Orion Pictures

Turns out, some of the men have been drugging the women with bovine tranquilizer and then raping them while they’re passed out. Only now they’ve been caught, and several of the accused have been turned over to the police. But the remaining men have gone into town to raise bail and get everyone released, telling the women to forgive them and move on like nothing has happened.

Now the women have a decision to make before the men return: Leave. Stay and fight. Do nothing.

Based on the best-selling novel by Miriam Toews, director Sarah Polley’s Women Talking is a powerful, thought-provoking drama that left me shattered and stunned. Insightfully complex, for a film where almost every meaningful minute takes place in the dusty hayloft of a creaky old barn, this is as tense and as suspenseful a thriller as anything I’ve seen in 2022.

But it is also a moving story of women taking charge of their lives as they never have before, and in a world where core human rights can vanish with the fall of a gavel, this may be the single most important component to Polley’s latest motion picture. There is a hushed immediacy to what is happening that’s haunting. I was sitting on the edge of my seat. The verbal back-and-forths have electrifying urgency, each point of view examined and every voice heard before any decisions are made final.

The core ensemble is composed of Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Liv McNeil, Michelle McLeod, Kate Hallett, and Ben Whishaw. Producer Frances McDormand makes a brief yet essential appearance, while the talented August Winter deftly rounds out the primary cast, making an unforgettable impression during the film’s climax.

All of the actors are terrific, and Polley gives each the freedom to make every snippet of dialogue uniquely their own. This makes it hard to point at one standout performance as it’s difficult to imagine any character making an indelible impression without those standing, sitting, or speaking right next to them doing the same. Even so, Foy and Buckley are extraordinary, the latter particularly so. Her character’s conflicted, fiery anger so palpable that the actor’s determined scowl is practically enough to set the screen ablaze all by itself.

Polley has already made a pair of instant classics, 2006’s unforgettable Alzheimer’s drama Away from Her starring Julie Christie and 2012’s mesmerizing familial investigative documentary Stories We Tell, and once again she is in complete control behind the camera. Her ability to bring the audience inside the frame along with the characters is second to none. Polley crafts a tense yet surprisingly cathartic mood, and while the final moments are tinged with unnerving hesitation and sadness, there is also a sensation of purposeful triumph that had me choking back tears even as I wanted to rise to my feet and cheer.

Veteran cinematographer Luc Montpellier’s (Cairo Time) camerawork is as assertively intimate as ever. I love how the images he creates seem to glide along with seamless exactitude, almost as if the viewer is that proverbial fly on the way taking in all of the verbal fireworks from every conceivable angle.

Women Talking (2022) | PHOTO: Orion Pictures

Yet there is an issue. I am getting tired of the desaturated look that has become all-too-familiar the last two decades. It’s as if Montpellier has shot things through a grayish-blue filter, draining all color from the proceedings and replacing it with a drab, tiresome delirium. I didn’t like it, and it is a testament to the rest of the drama’s magnificence that this one facet didn’t kill my enthusiasm all by itself.

Women Talking isn’t just about a small religious sect’s female members revolting against their mistreatment. It isn’t some didactic discussion about male dominance and aggression, or a treatise on perceptions of Heaven and Hell as seen through a narrowly focused theological lens. This is a universal story of power: who has it, who does not, and the strength it takes to do the courageous thing no matter how painful it might be to do so.

Toews’ source material dealt with all these issues and more, and Polley’s adaptation confidently follows suit. Leave. Stay and fight. Do nothing. The choice isn’t as easy as it may initially appear. But then, doing the right thing seldom is.

Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)

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