Skip to main content

Review: Selma

It may surprise many that Martin Luther King Jr. never received the celluloid treatment prior to Selma. Sure he had been mentioned in other historical pieces, but short of documentary footage, King was never given center stage. Quite shocking given the man's legacy and the lingering effect of his efforts still felt today. Several years of production and a director change later, Selma arrives as the film worthy of the man.

Bio-pics are hazardous in that directors have at most two hours to capture a subject's life. Cover too little and the legacy is tainted. Force in too much and the finished product feels lifeless. Ava DuVernay wisely avoids this problem by covering the build-up and eventual event of Dr. King's march from Selma to Montgomery in protest of the Jim Crow laws that restricted black people from voting. More importantly, DuVernay understands that while this movie is about a movement, it isn't about one man.

Andrew Young (Andre Holland), John Lewis (Stephen James), and countless others who were essential to the success of a march that almost never happened. Acts of violence that took the lives of Jimmie Lee Jackson and Father James Reeb threatened to derail the struggle for rights that were so desperately needed for the Black community. Every unconscionable blow against those marching for freedom lands with a sickening thud. Period pieces dealing with race too often reward viewers for how enlightened our present time is, instead DuVernay makes you feel everything that transpired in Alabama.

The church bombing that killed four girls in Birmingham weighs heavily on King's mind as he plans the best course of this massive undertaking. Ideally, he would avoid risking any more lives by letting the White House pursue cementing voting rights through legislative means. The problem with that is President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) is looking to use his political capital on his War on Poverty, he can't afford for partisan strife to get in the way of his goals. King can't afford to watch politicians piss away time passing the buck in a circle with a solution never in sight, so he sets sights on the capitol steps of Montgomery, AL.

Victory didn't come easy for Dr. King and DuVernay focuses on the smaller, quieter moments where the activist lets his guard down to be just a man. Even moments not typically associated with bio-pics of great leaders, such as times of doubt, shame and even defeat. Too often depictions of real life figures lead to rose-colored distortions of how these icons actually were. What makes figures like Martin Luther King Jr. impressive is that they are just like any of us, yet they chose to perservere through such human fears and achieve great deeds. Even when defeat seems at hand from Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth), hope lies in splashing those frustration onto televisions across the country so that their degradation may spark national outcry.

Ava DuVernay has only a few feature-length film credits to her name, yet she turns in one of the most solidly directed pictures of the year, aided by gifted cinematographer Bradford Young. The real star is, of course, lead David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. Oyelowo perfectly embodies the icon that is Martin Luther King Jr., revealing insights into the man as well. King's actions will always be what he is remembered for, but a particular late night chat between King and his wife, Coretta (Carmine Egogo), is revelatory and makes the man all the more relatable in ways that champions of history can't always be.

A powerful drama that is relevant now more than ever given recent events, Selma is not only about King, but the men and women who stood beside him to bring about a more equal United States. What marks DuVernay as a director beyond her years is that the regular men and women who gave everything for freedom are held in no less regard than King himself. The collective will of thousands for good hits a emotional crescendo that could only end with the words of King: "...the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Selma isn't just about one march, it's about our ideals. The struggle is long, but it is always eventually realized.

Popular posts from this blog

Hulk vs. The Incredible Hulk vs. The Avengers

There are two movies about the Hulk and one that features the green monster as a major player. One was made in 2003 by an auteur, starring a little-known Aussie. Five years later The Incredible Hulk came out to the same tepid reaction as Ang Lee's Hulk did. This weekend, The Avengers made the Hulk as popular as he has been in a long time. So it comes down to this: Hulk vs. Hulk vs. Hulk. Who will smash whom?

Round One: Acting
Edward Norton outshines Eric Bana as the dual persona of the meek Bruce Banner and the rage-induced Hulk. Eric Bana was given little to do but run and fight and often the audience was just waiting for him to transform. With the Incredible Hulk, Norton's Banner is fully fleshed-out and we are given a reason to care about him. Being allowed to go a little dark with Banner's scenes questioning what is left of his life provided emotional resonance to the character that Hulk lacked. Yet even with the capable performance that Norton gives there was something …

Review: The Salvation

Westerns have never recovered from the oversaturation that killed off viewer interest decades ago, but every now and then a gem pops up. Recent successes like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma and the Coen brothers adaptation of True Grit all did well because they tweaked the genre slightly, but director Kristian Levring goes with an old school approach. A faithful recreation of those revenge Westerns made so popular in the 1970s, The Salvation envelopes many elements of previous Clint Eastwood classics and wraps it into a tidy package.

The Salvation starts in on the central dilemma, joining Jon (Hannibal‘s Mad Mikkelsen) at the train station where he awaits the arrival of his wife and son. Jon and his brother, Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), have lived in the United States long enough to build a hospitable life for their family back in Denmark. This homecoming should be a sweet moment to establish the family important to Jon, but fate plays out…

Review: The Voices

Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) spends his days working the nine-to-five shift at his new job at the Milton Bathtub Factory. Jerry is chipper to the point that he may turn some people off, but he never stops trying to make friends. Friends are something that Jerry could use because the only other conversation he has is with his dog Bosco and his cat Mr. Whiskers. Things are looking up though, Jerry has been tasked with planning the company picnic and he’s asked a girl (Gemma Arterton) out on a date. Jerry is so excited to share the news he rushes home to tell his pets about Fiona. Oddly enough, both Bosco and Mr. Whiskers start talking back.

No need to go back and re-read that last sentence, yes, Ryan Reynolds has pets who talk back to him. His dog, Bosco, is quite affable, however, his cat, Mr. Whiskers, would feel right at home curled in the lap of Blofeld. Unfortunately for everyone around him, it’s the advice of the evil cat that Jerry heeds more often than not. For all of Jerry’s pleasant…