SXSW Film Review: The Most Hated Woman in America (USA, 2017) is Netflix at its best

There’s no doubt about it, Netflix are on a path to global domination. With a slew of well received original TV programming to their name already, the streaming giant have now turned their attention to taking on the film industry and the Hollywood studio system. The exceptional biopic The Most Hated Woman in America is their latest attempt to fight this traditional film model, and if it is anything to go by, I would say they have already won the war.

Directed by Tommy O’Haver, the true crime film depicts the life of Madalyn Murray O’Hair (played by an unrecognisable Melissa Leo), a controversial American figure who is best known for founding the ‘American Atheists’ organisation in the 1960’s. Also starring Adam Scott and Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser as O’Hair’s troubled son, the film intersperses the events of O’Hair’s life with her 1994 kidnapping and murder by former employee David Waters (Josh Lucas).

The film begins with Madalyn’s successful legal battle against the Baltimore public school system, which saw bible reading and the recitation of Christian prayers at the beginning of the school day. From there O’Haver expertly portrays the ups and downs of Madalyn’s life, from her run of successful television and debate appearances to the multiple attempts on her life by those who viewed Christianity as a fundamental basis of the United States and its Constitution.

The film represents a change of pace for O’Haver, who is perhaps best known for directing the 2004 Anne Hathaway vehicle Ella Enchanted. However he is more than capable here, directing an exciting narrative which isn’t afraid to pull all the punches when needed. O’Haver’s Madalyn is both an unlikeable and somehow endearing character, and the director manages to balance the two conflicting facets of her identity with great aplomb. Of course his adaptation is such a success due to a fantastic performance from Leo, who is sure to get the critics raving upon the film’s release. With the likes of Elizabeth Banks also working behind the scenes as an Executive Producer, it was always likely the film was guaranteed to be nothing but a huge hit for Netflix.

As a whole The Most Hated Woman in America is a strong representation of the amazing creative freedom that Netflix gives to those lucky enough to score a movie deal with them, and it makes me all kinds of excited for the great films which I’m sure will follow.

For all those lucky enough to be at SXSW, you’re in for a rollicking good time through the weird and often unspoken annals of American history. Consider yourself to be some very fortunate Cinemagoers.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Most Hated Woman in America screened this week at SXSW. It will premiere worldwide on Netflix on March 24th.