Selma – 4/5 – Movie Reviews by Ry!

SelmaSelma – 4/5 – Biopics can be one of three things:

Tales of inspiration

Focal points of a specific moment in history

Story mimicking an instructional video

Most the time a biopic turns out to be a little bit of each of the three.  There are times when they can shine high (Lincoln) and other times where they fail to capture the essence of the person or moment (Jobs).  Selma focuses on a specific moment in Martin Luther King Jr’s life.  With a specific focus, the film becomes an emphasis on that struggle and the harsh realities of gaining complete equality.  In the end, Selma is a story that captures the essence of the struggle of the time, even if it takes a while for the film to catch up with the importance of its themes.

Premise: A chronicle of Martin Luther King Jr. and his March from Selma to Montgomery.  ++

In the role of the iconic Martin Luther King Jr. is actor David Oyelowo.  David Oyelowo has been a supporting character in many prior films, but here he takes up the ‘leading role’.  In the leading role, David gives the breakout performance of his career.  From his physical look to his deeply empowering voice, David captures the complete embodiment of who Martin Luther King Jr. was.  No matter if he is speaking to a group in church, talking with the President at the White House or having general conversations with his friends/family/wife; you feel the raw human complexity of this man. Through these conversations, you see his struggles in pursuing what he believes in, and how that fight for equality wears on him on a emotional level.  That struggle exudes through his performance.  You feel the strength in his speeches, and the raw poignancy he has with reasoning the push for the ‘March from Selma to Montgomery’.  The hardship and completely nonviolent policy pushes him to the brink within this film.  Watching how he stands strong when he is physically or emotionally broken is what makes you feel and push for his struggle; it is what endears throughout all the film’s positional aspects and humanistic gravitas.  Because of the layering depth; David Oyelowo is going to garner award recognition here.   When it comes to the supporting cast, you have many familiar names with some up and coming actors/actress.  If you want a full list of the actors/actresses refer to the IMDB page.  For this review, I am going to describe what the more important roles in the film are:

Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King

Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper

Tom Wilkinson as President Johnson

Tim Roth as Governor George Wallace

The reason with making a point to mention these roles is because of how they either influence or impact this specific moment in history.  The actors/actresses behind these characters do a great job in providing this impact; both physically and dialogue driven within their time on screen.  With this chess game being played between all parties, there is this complete ‘showing of the cards’ that reflects a deeper belief in each.  You see that human worth to both the struggle for equality and the fight to keep things ‘status quo’ on each sides of the board.  That struggle gives each of these four depth in their acting.  You see that struggle of the ‘overall’ themes wreck havoc on all these four, as they struggle to purse what the feel is righteous based on their own ways.

The direction follows one of the three designated story elements I mentioned in the prologue.  This biopic uses the method of focusing on the a specific moment in history.  In doing this, it builds upon the facts of ‘knowing history’ up to the point of the film.  What this does is two things; causes a quickness to relative engagement for the audience and an assumption of familiarity added towards storytelling elements.  With the ‘overall’ focus on the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s and the ‘specific’ focus on the March from Selma to Montgomery, you get to see why the director to this approach.  There is slight familiarity with the source material, so the ‘lack of’ in the developing of the characters isn’t going to hinder the story’s worth.  Even with this, you still get a slight ‘introduction’ to the reasoning behind the movement, and the reason why Martin Luther heads to Selma.  With most of the ‘Civil Rights’ movement gaining a lot of ground, there was still one battle to fight.  That fight is complete equal rights for voting (Voting Equality).  In the film’s quick intro, you come to find that the ‘battleground’ turns towards the little town of Selman in Alabama.  From here, Martin Luther King Jr. sees a place to stage his ‘purpose’; when the federal government won’t move on legislation.  As the movie marks its starting point; we are thrust into the story that revolves around this moment of the 1960s.  There are a lot of ‘standoff’ barriers that start to form; ones where you see a lot of physical confrontation and some that turn out deadly.  In showing a quickness through relativity, you feel the pain of the situation but aren’t fully engaged.  This is due to a mesh of tone and theme.  The tone focuses on the ‘struggle’; where the theme takes the approach of a ‘hopefully glance’.  That contrast (even though it can be good) causes conflict because of the lack of depth (in the beginning).  Even so, you’re aware of the importance of the movement, as well as drawn through the engaging dialogue and wonderful acting.  As the movie progresses, we get to a point where the first ‘attempt’ of the March causes a pivotal shift of the directional tone and themes.  Not only does the film go beyond the typical explanation of ‘whys’ and ‘why nots’, it turns into a morality struggle for everyone within this particular decade (1960s).  As layers of purpose, worth and struggle come forth within the tone, the themes begin to hone in on these three attributes, bringing focus and engagement into one thread.  Even when this happens, the film still gets pulled down through a specific technique in filming; the ‘slow effect’ usage of the camera.  When this happens, it does it in a way that it stretches out scenes to create the ‘perception’ of a particular emotions.  Because of how the film has built up to this point, the usage of this technical kills momentum, causing an up and down impact of how the March has on the society of this era.  Along this bumpy road, we eventually get to the third act of the film.  When this happens; we get two empowering moments that are caused through a ‘domino’ effect:

Martin Luther King Jr. wins in an important court case

President Johnson pushing the Civil Rights Act

From here, the trickle effect is lukewarm, but strikes deeply because of the inherit raw appeal.  What moves the film from this point is the commanding force of the lead actor as Martin Luther King Jr. and the thematic importance of the March.  We watch as the film struggles along, and even with its rocky start, we end up at a wonderfully moving climax.  When we get to the epilogue, the whole point of the beginning meets a triumph end.

The visuals of the film are aesthetic to the 1960s, but don’t do much on a ‘grand’ scale to add any influence to the film’s purpose.  The ‘heart striking’ visuals come from the confrontations within the town of Selma and on the bridge, but they are few and far between to have that ‘momentous’ impact for the audience.  The score helps soothe both ‘meaning’ and ‘complexion’ of the 1960s as well.  Even if the music strikes a chord throughout the film, it doesn’t do much else to create a strong heartfelt score.

Selma is a film that has a very strong importance to American History.  Even as this important biopic, it does enough to be amazing on its own merits.  From the wonderful force that is that lead actor David Oyelowo; to the soothing complexion of the times, you get a strong story of what it took for a small group of people to ‘move mountains’ on the important rights of equality.  Even for some directional elements that slow the progress of the film, you will still see why it is a moving tale to watch it on the big screen.  If you like biopics definitely check this out.  You will not be disappointed.


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