Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi
Directed By: Ava DuVernay
Written By: Paul Webb
Rating: PG-13 (US) Running Time: 2 hr 8 min
Selma chronicles the events of Martin Luther King’s (David Oyelowo) campaign to secure voting rights for African-American US citizens, including the epic march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama in 1965. It was a pivotal moment in American history, and the civil rights movement. And fulfilled the promise laid out in the Declaration of Independence, ‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’
So what we have here is huge moment in American history, given the high-profile Hollywood treatment, and supported by one of the best leading performances in 2014 by David Oyelowo. The film reminds us of the sacrifices people made in order to achieve equal rights under the law, and when juxtaposed with current events, reminds us there’s still a ways to go before we can truly live in a colorblind society.
Despite all this however, I was strangely unmoved by the experience of watching Selma, and left the theater no more informed about that period in history. In fact, it had me search the internet to confirm a few of the artistic liberties the movie took with the subject matter. In particular, the portrayal of President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) and Martin Luther King’s relationship as a mostly confrontational one; which wasn’t the case.
I was also troubled by how the movie repeatedly jumped from one ‘hallmark’ moment to another. Lots of overly poetic unnatural sounding speeches to Bradford Young’s nice, but overused score. The casting too got a little distracting for me. It’s always impressive to see British actors flawlessly nail their character’s American accents, but this movie has three lead characters (King, LBJ and Tim Roth as Cov. George Wallace), all played by Brits. Were there no American actors qualified for these parts?
Then there’s the rest of the cast. Cuba Gooding Jr., Martin Sheen, and Oprah Winfrey. Big names, filling small supporting roles. What did they hope to bring to the film, other than distracting ‘oh it’s …’ cameo fun? This was supposed to be a serious film about an important period of American History. But the poetic dialog and slew of needless cameo appearances always made sure I never full engaged with this production.
This is a well made film, supporting a terrific lead performance from David Oyelowo. If you don’t know a lot about the events in Selma, then please make sure to read up about it after the film. Most movies about important historical events take some liberties with the truth for dramatic effect, so take what you see with a grain of salt, and research the marches after you’ve finished watching the film to separate fact from movie fiction. The film is rated PG-13, so the violence never gets too graphic.
This is a beautifully shot film, so I recommend you see this in a movie theater. If you wait for the rental, a HD copy viewed on your TV is your best bet.
The scenes depicting the brutal treatment of Selma marchers at the hands of the police is very nicely staged and shot. I also liked how old footage of the final march led by Martin Luther King was cut into the film’s version of that event.