A chronicle of Martin Luther King‘s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.
‘Selma’ is a good film about the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King, focusing on one particular chapter in his career set primarily in the Alabama town of Selma. The script (credited to Paul Webb, but also featuring work from director Ava DuVernay) creates some excellent material that showcases King as a leader, as a diplomat and as an orator, without forgetting that the man was human and was capable of lapses in judgement like any other man. Martin Luther King is played to perfection by the British actor David Oyelowo in a mesmerising and towering performance that captures the essence of the man incredibly well. Oyelowo inhibits the character so fully, from his presence to his excellent depiction of King’s voice, and it’s one of the year’s best performances. Whilst the film is good, Oyelowo towers above the material and his performance is ultimately better than the film itself.
The film does justice to King as a person and to the situation in Selma, but for some reason it doesn’t really resonate as much as it could have done. Ava DuVernay’s direction is mostly good, particularly excelling with the footage of the marches and the tracking shots along the bridge which really helps to magnify the scope of these historic marches. The overuse of reaction shots of characters unrelated to the action felt a little tired and unnecessary for me, with the gravity and power of the depicted events clear enough without the need to show some white people in their homes being moved by footage on the TV. From the supporting cast, the performances are mostly strong, with Tom Wilkinson playing the conflict of President Lyndon Johnson well, and Tim Roth and Stephen Root relishing roles as particularly unsavoury and racist characters. King’s supporting cast of activists perhaps suffer from the sheer number of them, and it becomes difficult to relate to many of the individuals when screentime is split evenly between them. With that being said, Wendell Pierce is always an enjoyable presence and he’s the highlight from this crowd.
There has been an element of controversy surrounding the film and its lack of Oscar nominations (in a year where primarily white artists have been recognised), with a nod for Best Picture and Best Original Song all that the film could muster. Is the outcry justified? Ultimately there are better films than ‘Selma’ this year, but Oyewolo’s omission from the Best Actor does seem particularly glaring despite the incredibly strong competition in that category (the year’s best performance from Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’ was also snubbed). Overall, ‘Selma’ is a good film about the civil rights movement, with a powerful story well told and good music, direction and performances throughout. Whilst the film itself isn’t anything special, Oyelowo’s performance certainly is and his magnificent portrayal of Martin Luther King is worth the entrance fee alone.
Directed By: Ava DuVernay
Starring: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Carmen Ejogo, Common, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lorraine Toussaint, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Giovanni Ribisi, Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Root, Wendell Pierce and Martin Sheen