Selma – Review

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Starring: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Andre Holland, Common, Lorraine Toussant, Wendell Pierce, Tim Roth
Written for the Screen by: Paul Webb
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
Metacritic Score: 89
IMDb Score: 7.6
Winner of One Academy Award – Best Song for “Glory” performed by Common and John Legend. Nominated for One Academy Award – Best Picture

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language

Movies with themes or based on Civil Rights and its movement have had some fantastic films in the past, such as Malcolm X, In The Heat of the Night, Remember the Titans, and one of my personal favorites To Kill a Mockingbird. Lately though, there have been some films that have been mediocre to downright terrible (Lee Daniels’ The Butler).

With a decent TV movie that was already made on the subject, it was interesting to hear how well Selma did with critics and moviegoers who may have forgotten Boycott. 

After seeing Selma, this movie is definitely a well made, greatly directed film. That said…

This movie chronicles how Martin Luther King Jr. (Oyelowo) did his famous march from Selma to Birmingham to bring attention to the racism problems involving allowing black people to vote.

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Movies that deal with a specific event are always tethered to a timeline; very few movies can get away from deviating for its source material. Because of this, bio-pics really need to do a few key things: it needs to present the event in not only a cinematic way that gives the viewer an up close interpretation of the events, but also a sense of attachment to the event in question that helps you empathize the plight of the event itself.

As a movie based on its core interpretation, which is showing the events of what happened in the Selma marches, it’s one of the best films since United 93 that really gives a great sense of the feeling and atmosphere. That is not a compliment given lightly: United 93 was gut wrenching and hard to watch, yet it had the benefit of the events still being fresh in the minds of moviegoers.

What makes Selma incredible is its way to take the viewer into not only the event at the time of which the events take place, just in an authenticity prospective, but also in a strikingly political sense as well. The film works well on both fronts, playing as a dual political thriller/biography film which gives the movie a much more fascinating feel and look.

On top of all of that, the direction of Ava DuVernay is the linchpin that secures the film’s technical pacing and story greatness. Her choice of shots, as well as her use of pace in the film, gives the film a feel like a big event that happens in a small town, even though it has bigger repercussions than that.

One key scene in the film, which is the first march on the bridge, exemplifies this point. Using differing angles, as well as an ominous fog with slight grave humor gives the movie just an intensity that even makes its payoff at the end of the scene, even if you already know what’s going to happen. This is just one scene, but the film in its entirety is embodied in this feeling.

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Now, what hasn’t been talked about yet are the performances of the film that are there to help you empathize with the plight on a human level. In all honesty, there isn’t a bad performance in the film, but there isn’t really a performance that elevates, or in this case anchors, the film.

Admittedly, making a complaint about good performances does seem like it’s petty or it’s simply “just finding things to be unhappy with”, but there is an overriding feeling of “it just could have been a little better”.

Depending on your mentality, Oyelowo is either a great impersonation of Martin Luther King Jr. or a good performance that isn’t particularly deep. He definitely embodies King in a way that most actors haven’t, but he doesn’t breathe life into the character that some great actors have in roles.

Then again, asking that might be a complete impossibility: Martin Luther King Jr. is still to this day one of the most important people in the past 100 years and with the way our political climate is today, he still highly relevant. To give this particular figure a performance that is deep, it’s almost becoming him might be near impossible for any actor.

The entire cast is solid as well. Not memorable. Not distinguishable. But solid. The cast does a serviceable job of keeping the movie fresh and interesting through their characters, but at no point does anyone really stand out or give something of a performance that actually runs a scene.

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I’ve read past my review about 3 times now and even though I stand by every word of it, I do have a feeling of not exactly being “fair” to the film.

It’s brilliantly done on a level that directors and screenwriters should dissect, especially filmmakers who strive on ethnic and civil issues. Just in terms of place, scope and just an attachment to the setting and pace of the film, this film is on par with Do The Right Thing with it’s choice of camera style and setting.

Ava DuVernay created one of the best looking and feeling movies that you could see. It truly is something that if you are an avid film lover and especially in the technical side of film, Selma is something that may very well be studied by future filmmakers.

But the film just doesn’t have the performances for it to be a classic amongst others. There is no Denzel Washington in Malcolm X; Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? or In the Heat of the Night; Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing. Nor does it have a cast that as a whole would be captivating, like American Beauty, Chinatown, Gone With the Wind, etc.

It can’t be denied: Selma is a movie that must be watched by many. However, it falls just short of greatness.

4/5 – DuVernay’s direction is peerless: creates a wholly authentic and tensing film

The Wiz Says #31

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