“Selma” mesmerized me from start to finish. It is everything a film about a towering figure like Martin Luther King ought to be: majestic and emotional, respectful but not worshipful. It manages to humanize a historical figure without diminishing him in any way, thanks to director Ava DuVernay’s sure hand, a superior screenplay by Paul Webb, and an incredible performance by David Oyelowo in the leading role (why was he snubbed by Academy voters I’ll never know). I say “incredible” because after just a few minutes’ time, I forgot about the actor and allowed myself to believe that I was actually watching the real Martin Luther King. What’s more, DuVernay has assembled a first-class team of collaborators in order to bring the 1960s period to life without ever looking, or feeling like your typical Hollywood period piece. Cinematographer Bradford Young, art director Kim Jennings, costume designer Ruth E. Carter, and every other colleague’s contributions feel organic and smooth, which is no easy accomplishment. “Selma” focuses on King’s famous 1965 voting-rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capitol in Montgomery. The cast is overflowing with talent, and every actor gets at least one moment in the spotlight. Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Oprah Winfrey, Giovanni Ribisi, Tim Roth, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Martin Sheen are just a few of the notable players who bring their best game to this terrific piece. But what do we learn that we don’t already know about Martin Luther King? That depends on how well-read you are on the great man’s life and work. I learned that, although kind and peaceful, he was still willing to make “unpopular” choices in order to achieve his goals. He is a man of many parts, and this film allows us to see a number of those aspects. That’s what makes “Selma” so memorable and above all, powerful. It’s easily one of 2014’s finest films.
Categories: 3.5/4, biopic, MUST-SEES, The Twenty-First Century
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