Selma (2014)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 11, 2014 @ tonymacklin.net.

When one has a powerful film experience, he has to get away from it for a while and let it settle.

Selma is a punch in the gut.

It's brutal, visceral, and it opens old wounds. It's a troubling film. But it's a transcendent film.

Selma is set in 1965 and focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s commitment to get equal voting rights for Negroes in the South. "Negro" was the accepted term then.

How times have changed.

But maybe not so much as people think. In 2014, states are whittling away voting rights.

That's why Selma could have a major effect beyond the theaters. It brings forth an issue that still is simmering in the U.S. And it treats it with style and potent impact.

At one point in the film, President LBJ (Tom Wilkinson) says to King (David Oyelowo), "You're an activist. I'm a politician."

Selma reminds one about how much of social well-being comes down to political willpower. Selma also reminds how little human nature changes. Profiling is the rule. Some people evolve; others regress. It's an eternal battle.

In the battle for power, conflict may dehumanize.

Perhaps what makes Selma work so well is the performance that David Oyelowo embodies as King.

Those of us who knew him from his boyish role as Danny in BBC tv's Spooks (MI-5 in the U.S.) may be shocked at the believable gravitas he brings to his portrayal. He makes MLK a human rock.

The cast around Oyelowo is formidable. Carmen Ejogo (Coretta Scott King), Wilkerson (LBJ), Tim Roth (George Wallace), Nigel Thatch (Malcolm X), et al. give strong, substantial performances.

And Oprah Winfrey, casting her image aside, disappears artfully into the role of hospice nurse Annie Lee Cooper. She powerfully expands the basic humanity of the film.

Director Ava DuVernay vaults into history and makes it sing an anguished song. She's especially effective as a director of violence. The encounters - especially on the bridge on "Bloody Sunday" - have rare impact.

She avoids sentimentality that the original director Lee Daniels would have brought to the project.

DuVernay is served well by an intelligent, nuanced screenplay by Paul Webb. And the cinematography by Bradford Young is evocative.

The decision to shoot the film in Selma adds verisimilitude. The actual bridge becomes a meaningful, crucial character.

Selma makes you feel, and makes you think.

Isn't that the essence of film?

And the human condition?

© 2000-2020 Tony Macklin