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Selma (2015)A RELEVANT REVELATION - My Review of SELMA (4 Stars) So many biopics… More A RELEVANT REVELATION - My Review of SELMA (4 Stars) So many biopics succumb to piousness, reverence, and a bland, straightforward "this happened and then this happened" approach to their subjects, that it's thrilling when one comes along with passion and a true directorial voice. Such is the case with SELMA, directed by the very talented Ava DuVernay, wonderfully written by Paul Webb, and featuring an astounding, commanding and sometimes surprisingly subtle performance by David Oyelowo. Covering a three month period in 1965 where Martin Luther King led civil rights marches and lobbied President Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act, the filmmakers paint a broad canvas over a limited time period. At times overstuffed with characters and famous actors in small roles, SELMA benefits from looking at this historic and important struggle from a myriad of angles. While the details of the struggle are well known and etched in the memories of anyone who cares about the Civil Rights struggle, what surprised me was what a joltingly visceral and cinematic experience SELMA offers. In the opening minutes, a surprising event occurs, and without spoiling anything, it knocked me back in my seat. From there, I knew I was being guided by a director with the ability to get your attention. What kept me watching was the serious but accessible tone. Beautifully shot by Bradford Young, who along with Oyelowo have A MOST VIOLENT YEAR to their credit, SELMA presents complex characters whose intelligence, deliberateness, and bravery, rather than the typical noble victimhood, is given a chance to truly shine and be deeply felt. Although they did not get permission to use any of King's speeches, the writing replaces them with thunderously impactful orations nonetheless. Oyelowo makes you want to stand and cheer in these moments, but his quieter scenes show a vulnerable, flawed man. One particular scene with his wife Corretta (a wonderfully self-possessed Carmen Ejogo) turns on a dime with just a simple pause between words. It's a recurring motif in which DuVernay allows for extended takes, sometimes holding on a character's face as they think before speaking. The cumulative effect is to build power with a rare patience, where other filmmakers would choose to pace things up more. DuVernay's choices, her command of intimacy, her refusal to devalue the power of its subject while avoiding pretension, are what makes this film a cut above the usual movie of the week this could have become. SELMA feels at times like LINCOLN's more tense and exciting cousin. Both films detail minutiae surrounding the passing of laws, but while LINCOLN felt like a very good stage play, SELMA is riveting. The march scenes are suspenseful and heartbreaking. You feel every baton hit, every frightened reaction, the horror of people running from racist cops on horseback. This film has tense set pieces and memorable dramatic exchanges. In addition to our leads, Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth do excellent work as President Johnson and George Wallace respectively. Oprah Winfrey in a small role as a woman who bravely seeks to register as a voter makes an indelible mark. She truly is a wonderful actor, in addition to producing important films such as this. Wendell Pierce, Niecy Nash, Common, Lorraine Toussant, and Jeremy Strong make lasting impressions. Relative unknown Stephan James emerges as a true star here as John Lewis, with his smart, soulful performance, although at times it feels like DuVernay accommodated everyone who wanted to do the film, rather than trimming the fat here and there. A minor quibble. The end credits song brings the past to the present in an astonishlingly relevant way, making SELMA required viewing for anyone with a pulse and a heart.
30 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes