Thursday, January 8, 2015

Selma: Movie Review


The warm, welcoming, commanding presence of Martin Luther King marches forward.
Opening with Martin Luther King Jr winning the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, historical drama Selma focuses on Martin Luther King's leadership of the American civil rights movement and the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in a protest for voting equality. It's an interesting point in King's tenure, as he has already achieved national fame and recognition, essentially has an open door to President Lyndon B. Johnson, but he's still experiencing unrest. 2014

Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Screenplay by: Paul Webb

Starring: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo and Tim Roth

David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in SELMA,
from Paramount Pictures, Pathé, and Harpo Films.
The movie succeeds because of David Oyelowo's ability to capture the leadership qualities of Dr. King. He has a very quiet but commanding presence and when he speaks, you listen. The audience is drawn to his every word, calmed by his presence, ignited by his passion. It is those very qualities that propelled King to the head of the civil rights movement, and the embodiment of those very qualities that Oyelowo projects that gets the audience invested in following this one part of his life's journey.

After we see King's acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, four girls were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. It's a jolt back to the violent reality that the American South was currently embroiled in. The violence itself was sometimes shown in a sort of detached manner, but the images of the immediate aftermath were always horrid. We know what's happening, but it's a little hard to believe, and very hard to watch. But the film has an interesting ability to always pull the audience back into the story. Even though every turn is known and expected, it can still come as a shock. It's that historical part of the film, the meat of the story, that is well handled.

The movie also has the need to delve into Martin Luther King's personal life. Even though we're only concentrating on the weeks immediately surrounding the marches, we some how found the time to meet women he was sleeping with on the side, and explore how unhappy this makes Coretta Scott King. I could have done without that personal diversion, but there does seem to be an obligation to humanize heroes.

Wendell Pierce (far left) plays Rev. Hosea Williams and
Stephan James (second from left) plays John Lewis in SELMA,
from Paramount Pictures, Pathé, and Harpo Films.
Many times the supporting cast seem to be unaware of what to do. But this makes sense considering they're not given much to do and David Oyelowo really is Martin Luther King Jr. and they're standing in the presence of an historical giant. His fellow marchers and organizers were the most effective, but we didn't get to know any of them particularly well. Tim Roth has the most notable presence as Alabama Governor George Wallace, a populist and pro-segregation supporter who referred to MLK and his followers as communists. With a strong Southern accent he inspired fear and derision at the same time.

Most of Martin Luther King's scenes were bathed in a golden yellow which gave the film a very warm feel. Putting us into the history as we see in our heads but keeping us safe. There were some beautiful shots of the Edmund Pettus Bridge that really cemented the historical significance of the location. But then each fight scene would have to be shot in a different style and evil politicians would be shown from a strange angle, as if the cinematography was trying to upstage the story. But don't worry, it doesn't.

David Oyelowo really grounds the biopic of MLK into something relatable and inspiring. We watch each attempt at the march with hope and fear and each conversation with LBJ with anticipation and frustration. We feel like we understand who Martin Luther King is, even if we're only watching one part of his life. It's an important part of history and one that is capably told in Selma.

Similar Titles:

The Imitation Game (2014) - Codes, war and homosexuality in an interesting balancing act.

12 Years a Slave (2013) - A story where bad becomes worse becomes worse and may never get to worst.