January 12, 2015

Movie Review: Selma

I recall when I first saw the trailer for Selma, I was intrigued. While I do tend to not give as much weight to real world stories on film, it felt like this was a bit of an important film for the current state of the nation. No, I am not one to really comment in that arena, but it is hard to ignore the timing of its release with the events over the past year. There is no denying that some serious and heavy conversations, but that is for people smarter than I at another time. So far as Selma is concerned, it is far from a favorite film, but there is no denying its effectiveness.

For those who don't know, Selma is about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the march he led to secure voting rights in Selma, AL, in 1965. It is a fascinating film that does something that more biopics need to do. Rather than try to condense the subject's life into one two hour movie, pick one piece and focus on that. In this case, the march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery. It allows for more pointed commentary on the subject rather than a distillation of facts into a homogenized film.

Selma, from director Ava DuVernay and screenwriter Paul Webb, does a very nice job of showing the violence, tension, and real gravity of the time. I watch this and cannot personally fathom people treating people in a disgusting fashion such as that. Of course, one would think we would all be like that at this point, but reality paints a different picture. On top of that, I suspect while there is moving material in this film, it pales in comparison to what the reality was.

At the front and center of this movie is David Oyelowo, who delivers a performance of both subtlety and power. Through everything, he brings dignity to the screen, even in the moments where he deals with personal family issues not directly related to the Civil Rights Movement. This is obviously where all the weight needs to be, and he is up to the task, delivering speeches and showing some of the strategies employed.

Something else that Selma does well is relate to modern times. It is important to see the past in a hope not to relive it. It is not hard to make the leap from then to now and recognize that we still have a way to go. This is a thought provoking, discussion creating film. It is not the best film, but there is substance here, even if you dig a little, it does not take long for dots to be connected.

This is not a perfect film and at times it feels like it rests on the surface more than it wants to dig in, play up the melodrama and not necessarily being complete reality. It also made me think a little bit about why I tend towards the genre and more fictional fare. I will not go into it fully here (perhaps in the near future), suffice to say, I like how with genre fare you can have movies that just tell a story (not everything needs to be a statement on something) and you are also free to comment on society or something without the constraints of reality, deal in a more abstract fashion. With based on true story or “real world” type films there are some limits put in place, spotlight a specific statement or moment and bring that to the front, which is not always as interesting to me.

I was really up in the air on whether I was going to write about Selma or not, as you can see I did. It is a good, but not great, film that is certainly effective and has a searing central performance. There is a solid supporting cast with notables like Common, Tim Roth, and Giovanni Ribisi. It is a movie made to affect you, and it does. It may not feel as deep as it could have been, but there feels like a true dedication to the material and its presentation. It will lead to interesting thoughts.


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