2014 Awards Circuit: Selma Review
The 2014 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.
For the longest time, it was always hard for me to watch biopic movies. Especially biopics made about significant Civil Rights activists. Obviously, this was not due to me being racist, but more because I felt Hollywood as a whole never took these important figures seriously. I look at "42" from last year, and I can't help but be overwhelmed by how mediocre it is. I used to sit and wonder if this was all these figures meant to Hollywood. Did the world of film seriously believe that they can just do a quick run through Martin Luther King Jr.'s life or Malcolm X's life or Rosa Parks' life and call it done? And, if I dare say that I didn't like the end result I would be considered racist? I believe every movie needs to be seen fairly and discussed for its merits, not by what the movie is necessarily about.
It seems to me that the time of treating these important figures with care is finally upon us. With all that I have said above, it is true that "Selma" is a engrossing experience. Its a movie that cuts deep and leaves fresh scares, but it is powerful at every turn. This is the movie about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I have been waiting all my life to see. Finally a movie that treats him like an important figure instead of a Wikipedia article. That may seem extreme, but it is pretty clear how poor these figures have been adapted over the years in movies. Now, we finally have a movie that respects the man to the core, and we are all richer for it.
By focusing the movie on the Selma Marches and what lead to the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, director Ava DuVernay gives herself enough story to make MLK's legacy count without overcrowding it with content unrelated to the story. This is the story of Selma, through and through and we learn quite a bit about MLK, at his highest and his lowest. Some of that has to do with the power of David Oyelowo, an actor who frankly disappears into his role. He has the mannerisms and voice of MLK down to a science and we feel every emotion, big or small, that the character feels throughout the movie. I am almost positive that I could write an entire novel about how good Oyelowo is as MLK.
I also like that the main focus isn't on MLK but the whole event of Selma as a piece of history. This is a movie that really digs deep into what it means to create a revolution. As the film slowly escalates, its hard to not get anxious with desperation, even though many of us know the outcome. This is a movie that is just as much about MLK as it is about the people who stood with and against him. Honestly, if anybody wanted to begin a revolution over anything, they could use this film as a way to begin the process. The attention to detail is solid, and better than I thought it would be. That detail isn't just in the film's revolutionary attitude, but the costumes and sets feel lived in, not something a studio pulled out of a backlot for movies like this.
As I said above, Oyelowo is good, really good. If he wasn't this good, I would not be this happy right now. But the rest of the cast solid too. The work done by Common, Tim Roth, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Eojogo, Colman Domingo, Cuba Gooding Jr, E. Roger Mitchell, and all the other actors deliver outstanding performances in this movie. Heck, even Oprah Winfrey shines in her couple moments in the movie, she has a couple of big scenes in this movie and she really makes them count. This is a cast that went tooth-and-nail to make something that felt authentic, felt genuine and felt emotional and they all really nailed it.
But at the end of the day, it should be noted that this isn't the typical movie about civil rights. This isn't an experience that is mostly empty with some iconic imagery to remind us of what happened in our past. This is a movie that really tries to teach us something. This is a movie that understands the importants of MLK and Selma and Civil Rights and tries damn hard to create something that respects it. I think Ava DuVernay just set the standard for movies like this, and the bar has been set so high that I dare somebody to try and top it. I could not have asked for a better experience on this Martin Luther King Day.
FINAL GRADE: A