Director: Ava DuVernay
Cast Headliners: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey
Original Release Date: December 25th, 2014 (limited)
Seen: January 2015
Given Martin Luther King Jr’s absolutely gargantuan effect on American history, it’s curious that there has never before been a major Hollywood production about his groundbreaking work. Selma focuses on a very specific event in the MLK timeline and some very specific sets of relationships, and this makes the historical drama film even better for it.
Rather than offer a lifetime spanning biopic the film picks up in 1965 as Martin Luther King Jr (David Oyelowo) prepares for demonstrations in Selma, Alabama along with his many followers. The three pillars of the movie are the preparations / attempts/ and eventual happening of the events which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, MLK’s relationship with President Lyndon B Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), and his relationship to his close followers and wife Coretta(Carmen Ejogo).
There’s an extremely large cast in the film considering the many important people involved, but the absolute highlight is Oyelowo as MLK. The costuming and makeup on him makes it seem as if this is actual footage of the Doctor himself, and if not also in visuals this is true in his magnificent performance. He delivers his scenes with a nuance and power that can inspire one as much as the real person did. The other person in the movie who seems to have leapt right through time is Wilkinson’s President Johnson. He captures his personality quite well, and the scenes between these two are tense and powerful.
What’s also powerful is the direction of the film by Ava DuVerney. It’s filled with close production that really brings one in, and it hurts and saddens when it has to and inspires in the same manner. There are dark parts to the movie, but that is history. The challenge of the events at Selma is made exciting yet also historically respectable.
It’s very much a “behind the scenes” look at MLK during this time, with some great stuff between MLK and his wife Coretta. While it’s nice to see his interactions with his close friends and peers, sometimes there are so many different dozens of characters and minor perspectives one can get lost viewing it. They often have emotional resonance to them, but it’s a dense slow burn of a experience.
It’s not an easy watch, but it isn’t supposed to be. While there is so much to show about Martin Luther King Jr, what the scope of the film does cover is handheld well. The effort of cast and director has done a good job making a movie that does a job capturing the intense events of the Selma march. 8.5 out of 10