Monday, January 12, 2015

Movie Review: "Selma" (2014)

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Director: Ava DuVernay
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes

When the black citizens of Selma are refused the right to register to vote, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) comes to the city to lead protests and convince President Lyndon B. Johnson to introduce a bill that will guarantee voting rights for all citizens, as well as help, prevent states from disenfranchising voters. King leads a series of marches from Selma to Montgomery to raise awareness of the issue, but when the local law enforcement unleashes violence on peaceful protesters, it draws national attention and helps to garner even more widespread support for the movement. Despite threats and acts of violence, protesters risk life and limb to march on while they fight political opposition from Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth) and a troubling lack of support from President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) in Washington. 

There have been a lot of movies in recent years about events in history that have both failed to connect to its intended audience and have failed in being successful. Last year's flop "The Monuments Men" is one that comes to mind right off the bat. It feels as if that movie's filmmakers tried really hard to make the events portrayed be so important in the grand scheme of cinematic history that they actually missed the crux of their point altogether.

Enter "Selma." Even from viewing the first trailer, we knew we had to see this film. It's one of those rare movies that comes along every so often and can really be a game changer, much like last year's "12 Years a Slave." It's so deeply important and so profoundly powerful and so incredibly poignant that each and every single person should see it. Everything about this movie is incredible, from its brilliant direction by Ava DuVernay to its brazen writing and its powerhouse performances. While we're on the subject of performances, you need to get to know the name David Oyelowo because he is nothing short of phenomenal as Martin Luther King Jr. Within the first 5 minutes of the movie, you know you're going to be in for an emotionally gripping and intense experience. I personally didn't have a dry eye the entire film for longer than 3.75 minutes. Oyelowo tries and succeeds at matching King's mannerisms and diction, filled with wonderful bravado and inflection. He looks the same, sounds the same and basically becomes King on the big screen. There are few movies with such notable performances, but this is one of the best of the best, and not just in 2014. Carmen Ejogo is also spectacular as Coretta Scott King, the woman behind the man, who, despite not being in the spotlight as much as her husband, had to deal with the same issues and threats as Martin did, and sometimes even worse as she had to face them alone while he was on the "front lines." Really, everyone else's performances in the film, while wonderful and powerful in their own right, take a back seat to Oyelowo, who really morphs into King and becomes the driving force of this film.

Another thing we loved about this movie is that it doesn't shy away from King's faults. It doesn't only portray him in a saintly, positive light, but it also discusses his weaknesses and his faults, too, as he did have them in real life. King's far-reaching spirit, drive, and dreams may have fueled a movement, but he obviously had his vices. It reveals Martin Luther King the man, not just the figurehead and civil rights leader, and shows who he was, not just what he was. We see him take on the pain and sorrows of the people who believed in him, followed him and sometimes died for him, as well as his own private thoughts and struggles of being the face of the civil rights movement, not simply his impactful speeches and his imprisonments.

People often forget that things in this country weren't always good and fair for all people. The civil rights movement really wasn't even that long ago and yet, in some ways, we act like it's ancient history that we have forgotten. The movie-going public generally views a film like "Selma" as one that is purely Oscar-bait and tries to write it off as such. However, movies like this are important to remind us where we were, where we are, and how far we have yet to come as it draws parallels to issues that still go on in our society today. Racism is not over, and anyone who thinks it is should visit any internet message board, forum or YouTube comments section. It probably never will be over, and that is both unfortunate and downright wrong. King would have been proud, though, regardless of political affiliation, to see this wonderful United States of America elect a black president, not once, but twice, and to see just how far we have come, though we do have a long, long way to go.

My Rating: 10/10
BigJ's Rating: 10/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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