Genre: Biographical Drama
Running Time: 128 mins.
Premise: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. attempts to secure equal voting rights by holding a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.
Behind-the-Scenes: Hard to believe it, but this is the first narrative film about MLK. It's about time. Director Ava DuVernay worked with David Oyelowo (who plays MLK) on her last film, Middle of Nowhere. DuVernay used to be a publicity consultant. This is the third film she's directed.
The Good: Selma is a nearly flawless film, and a model example of what a biopic should be. Rather than track MLK's entire life, it covers a specific, important chapter, not unlike Spielberg's Lincoln. In that short timespan, we still get a full picture of MLK, the man, the husband, the orator, the civil rights leader. Oyelowo is magnetic, subtle, deeply human, and commanding as MLK. It's a stand-out performance, and I bought him in the role without question. He deserves all the Oscar talk he's going to get. DuVernay and screenwriter Paul Webb wisely maintain a balanced, level-headed approach to the material, which makes it all the more effective. The events in Selma may have occurred in 1965, but damn it if what we're seeing doesn't evoke current events involving police in Ferguson and New York. I'm sure that wasn't intended at the time of production, but it just speaks to the power of the message and the medium. The music is evocative. The editing is precise. The movie knows when to go big, and when to rein it in with a quiet scene of dialogue.
The Bad: The supporting cast is great, and everyone gives wonderful performances, but it's initially a little distracting to see stars like Common and Oprah Winfrey in small roles.
Should You See It?: Big yes. This should be required viewing for everyone, and I can't think of a better way to spend your MLK holiday than to see this film.
Star Rating: ***** out of 5 stars.
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