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Selma Review

19 Jan

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When making a movie about an important historical figure like Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s easy to go through the motions and use a list of major bullet points as a stand in for an actual screenplay. What makes Selma compelling is its focus on a very specific time period in the history of Dr. King, a time period that was essential to the Civil Rights movement, but a time period that also echoes the state of our nation today. It’s a narrative that marches forward with clear purpose, but it also takes the time to reflect on who exactly made up this movement.

Of course, it’d be impossible to cover everyone as much as he or she deserves, and that does make for some half-developed characters who don’t stick with us beyond a scene here or there. At the same time, though, the movie ensures that we know how they fit into the narrative, how they contribute to the cause. They all feel like people rather than historical plot points, and the same can be said for the central characters who do in fact stick with us: Coretta Scott King, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Martin Luther King Jr. himself. These characters are portrayed excellently by Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, and David Oyelowo, respectively, and the interactions between any of the three are just as compelling as the marches; a scene between King and his wife about his infidelity is beautifully handled by Ejogo and Oyelowo, and it’s a piece of history that isn’t often talked about.

What Selma comes down to is an exploration of the politics and religion and media influence that went into the Selma march; for example, we see that although King understood the power of nonviolent protest, he also understood the power of violence in the media landscape. DuVernay approaches the movie with an excellent balance between the grand scale of the historical events and the intimacy of the story behind those events, and in doing so, she emphasizes both the symbolic significance and the humanity on display. Someone like Tom Wilkinson’s LBJ may serve to represent the political process as a whole–that’s where some of the portrayal controversy comes in–but the conversations between him and King also seem fairly small in scope. DuVernay’s staging of Bloody Sunday is impressive and expansive and impactful, but the conversations King has with his companions in between are important as well. The speeches and montages are powerful, but so is a scene in which Dr. King comforts a grieving father. Selma shines because the filmmakers understand the profound impact of the march not only on history, but also on people.

GRADE: B+

OTHER THOUGHTS:

-On Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, Selma came in fifth place at the box office behind such crap as Taken 3 and The Wedding Ringer. Not surprising, but incredibly disappointing.

-This is a very large cast, so I’ll just mention some notable actors/actresses here who I didn’t mention above: Common plays James Bevel, Tim Roth plays George Wallace, Oprah plays Annie Lee Cooper, Lorraine Toussaint (recently from OITNB) plays Amelia Boynton Robinson, Keith Stanfield (from the wonderful Short Term 12) plays Jimmie Lee Jackson, Andre Holland (incredible in The Knick) plays Andrew Young, Dylan Baker plays J. Edgar Hoover, Martin Sheen/Jed Bartlet plays Judge Frank Minis Johnson, Tessa Thompson plays Diane Nash, and Wendell Pierce (from Treme and The Wire) plays Hosea Williams.

-Nigel Thatch as Malcolm X is some excellent casting.

-Looking forward to cinematographer Bradford Young’s work in the upcoming A Most Violent Year.

-Yeah, Oyelowo’s incredible, and people are rightfully angry about his and DuVernay’s snubs.

Photo credit: Selma, Plan B Entertainment, Cloud Eight Films, Pathé

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8 Responses to “Selma Review”

  1. aguywithoutboxers January 19, 2015 at 9:29 pm #

    Excellent! 🙂

  2. JustMeMike January 19, 2015 at 10:52 pm #

    You made an excellent point with the statement that the major figures in the film are best captured for their moments = rather than their long term presence. A Perfect example was Tim Roth;s George Wallace – in the film, he has but a few pointed moments, like the way the sharp end of a stick can cause you harm – in real life his shadow was long and his influence pervasive..

    In a strange way, Wallace can serve as a horrible example – yet his very intransigence was a part and parcel of what propelled the changes that came in his wake – or better yet – in his face.

    While Selma will not go down as the greatest film or greatest bio film – it is very fine way for today’s people to have a look back at the way it was.

    Also you made a very good point about the box office being disappointing for this film – especially, since this was the MLK weekend with Monday being a federal holiday.

  3. Mark V. January 19, 2015 at 11:02 pm #

    Loved the short, but impactful scene where MLK questions the point to their struggle in the prison cell. And Bradford Young’s cinematography is pretty ace in AMVY.

  4. Writer Loves Movies January 20, 2015 at 2:02 am #

    Looking forward to seeing this one – it’s not out here until the end of the month though. Nice review.

  5. Hepburn3 January 20, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

    I will be seeing this film with my parents. They do not go to films very often so this will be a treat. Good review and point of view Polarbear. 🙂
    I do feel sad that it has not done well at the box office considering it is a National holiday in your nation and the jank that is out there ahead of it be it asinine tripe or jingoistic tripe.
    I also find it rather annoying and two-faced regarding those who are so upset about how LBJ is shown in this film. One never hears nary a peep out these people when such historical inaccuracies and personality exaggerations of the characters such as in American Sniper, or in The Imitation Game are done, no they get praise for those wonderful moments of artistic license and Oscar nominations. Egads.

    • polarbears16 January 21, 2015 at 12:48 am #

      I hope you guys enjoy it! Let me know how it is.

  6. Michael Moore January 20, 2015 at 6:29 pm #

    Well said! I thought the movie was very well done. And your points about the characters depth or lack of were on target. I too was disappointed that more people wanted to see either crap movies or Sniper…

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