Movie Review: Selma
"What happens when a man stands up and says enough is enough?"
These harrowing words of bravery in times of adversity truly define what Selma, the unforgettable tale of one of America's greatest leaders, is setting in front of its audiences. With immense power and fearlessness, this film breaks the barriers of what can be said and done on the silver screen, as it unfolds a tale of tragedy and triumph through the eyes of the man who witnessed it first hand. Telling the story of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., Selma does not stop at the simple tossing around of famous names and tragic events with a slight of hand, but digs deeper than most historical films in its quest to lay out the pungent and beautiful life of a man conflicted at every turn.
Cementing this daring tale of bravery and heroism into the minds of both the people who were alive at that time or their children or grandchildren who yearn to understand the acts of men and women facing segregation, Selma tells the story of how Dr. King (David Oyelowo), a man juggling the conflicts of his family and his followers, takes adversity by the neck and sits it down for a peaceful chat. Non-violent and gracious in his steps, King enters a deadly battle of words as he fights to give African-Americans the chance to vote in Alabama of 1965. Evading acts of terrorism by white aggressors, as well as the demanding words of President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) and Alabama Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth), King constructs a force of unstoppable wisdom and strength, as men and women of all colors stand beside him in the complex and dangerous fight for suffrage.
Among the great and powerful films of African-American struggles, depicting events from slavery to civil rights, stands Selma, confident in its stride towards giving the people of today a look inside what men and women faced during that time. As films like Lee Daniels' The Butler, Lincoln, and 12 Years A Slave take these conflicts and shed light on their indecent horrors, Selma yearns to do the same, as it focuses on not only the man at the front lines, but also the frightened yet inspired citizens who fight, with or without violence, towards their life goals. A fan of films of this nature, depicting the true lives of men and women who tackle their conflicts in the very real world, Selma was a harrowing delight to my eyes. Spilling out immense emotion and power at every turn, from King's many preaches to the shocking acts of violence thrown into the streets of Selma, this film is among the many films I will never forget.
Accompanied by a fluent and emotional plot of one man's determination to make things as they should be for everyone, the performances in the film are some of the best I've seen all year. With David Oyelowo leading the pack of striking actors who deliver some of their best works here, Selma packs together a cast of unlikely proportions, but never fails to leave a character out in the sun. Starting with our leading man, Mr. Oyelowo, whom I've only seen in supporting roles in films like Jack Reacher and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, he shows us that he can obviously take the lead as he knocks Martin Luther King Jr. out of the park (figuratively, of course). Equipped with King's subtle facial features, as well as the activist's signature way with words, Oyelowo takes no prisoners with this amazing performance. With every word he spoke, from the famous speeches to the innocent conversations with Carmen Ejogo, who plays King's wife, Oyelowo suspends time and takes our attention with force to focus solely on him. With such an jolting performance as one of America's most influential people, Oyelowo is sure to be among the great men of film recognized this year as award season continues to ignite around us.
The rest of the cast is phenomenal as they play some of the top men and women who followed King in his daring quest. From Oprah Winfrey's Annie Lee Cooper to Tom Wilkinson's President Johnson, the cast does an amazing job portraying these influential people, not leaving a single character out of place. Whether it be a conflicted civilian or a political figure like Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch), who appears only for five minutes, Selma succeeds not only in dropping big names of the era, but developing a complex story that intertwines each character with one another. Other powerful performances (some not on King's side) include Tim Roth's striking role as Governor Wallace, with his Southern drawl and all, as well as Cuba Gooding Jr. as Attorney Fred Gray, who appears for only a short while, but still gives a great performance.
With a film full of seemingly dreary politics and long speeches, you would think there is little excitement in order to hold you over for two hours. However, I will tell you different. There is nothing more exciting and gripping than this tale, a tale of terrorism and heroism, adversity and bravery, deception and redemption. Selma may have politics and speeches, but they are not speeches forced onto you as a history lesson, they are more like lessons placed in front of you for you to ponder over, thinking of how they affect our daily lives. The words of such a legend as Martin Luther King Jr. are not to be forgotten, but treasured, as this film glorifies the role this man served in the lives of millions of people, black and white alike. Selma takes pride as it mixes the rush of protest with the voices of truth in a beautifully complex vision of how corrupt yet monumental this time really was.
Overall, this was by far one of the best biopics I've seen in a while, packed full of emotion and wisdom. Centered on such an amazing figure in such a dark time, Selma tackles King's legacy perfectly, as well as letting us peek into the lives of some of the great people he touched with his words. With only minor flaws, like some jumbled dialogue here and there, this film is another near perfect biopic that I hope to see at the head of some of the biggest awards in film.
I gave this film a 9 out of 10 for its unforgettable lead actor David Oyelowo (who I hope to see on the stage with an Oscar in his hands soon enough), its great supporting cast that delivers dynamic performances all around, and its moving story of one of the most influential eras in American history.