“What happens when a man stands up and says enough is enough?” asks Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) to one of his close friends and followers as they sit in a jail cell after one of their Civil Rights protests in the dramatic film, Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay.
Set in 1965, Selma chronicles the three month period in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the campaign to obtain equal voting rights for all black American citizens. King travels to Washington many times to try to secure support from President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) who’s hesitant to make this his number one priority with the Vietnam War raging and escalating on. Determined not to be derailed and knowing that this cause cannot wait any longer for the black community, King organizes and leads the epic historic march from Selma to Montgomery, culminating in the delivery of the speech which forces President Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Powerful and engaging with fantastic performances, Selma recreates and captures vividly the struggle, racism, and the passion that was America in 1965. This is a historical biography that should be required viewing for all to see. David Oyelowo delivers one of the best performances of the year as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, almost disappearing into the role. His look, walk, voice and mannerisms bring the Civil Rights champion alive again up on the big screen. Oyelowo captures not only the strong, smart, and brave peaceful leader King was but also shows him with his faults as an unfaithful husband and at times a man doubting his own courage and willpower. It’s truly a mesmerizing performance.
Tom Wilkinson proves once again he’s one of if not the best character actor of his generation with his portrayal of President Johnson. He captures pitch perfect both the decent side of Johnson wanting to do as much as he can for the Civil Rights movement, and the political side of the man not wanting to alienate voters and juggling both the economics of the country as well as dealing with the war in Vietnam. There scenes together sizzle with energy and drama.
Perhaps the only flaw with the film is with its uneven pacing and the director’s tendency to overuse the slow motion effect to over-emphasize acts of violence during a small peaceful march broken up by the police as well as the first attempts to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Still, with perhaps the best ensemble performances of any cast in 2014 and an extremely dynamic recreation of the historical march, Selma is one of the best films of 2014 and should not be missed as it expands into additional theaters in 2015.
Selma is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language.
Running Time: 128 minutes
– Reviewed by Kevin Finnerty
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