Selma is a rousing and engrossing biography film that succeeds at bringing the historical icon of Marin Luther King Jr. to life in a humanized way. Despite it’s slow pace, it remains a powerful historical film that never turns into a history lesson and delivers an excellent portrayal of historical events.
Director Ava Duverney does an excellent job at setting up the historical events, and often does a brilliant job at building tension in the film’s different sequences. While the film’s PG-13 rating limits it’s portrayal of violence, it remains effective through it’s emotional circumstances and the larger social issues being discussed. A common theme in recent films has been the evidence of media attention (Gone Girl, Nightcrawler, Birdman), and Selma does an excellent job at showing the power of media over political intrigue.
Paul Webb’s screenplay also does a great job at bringing the events to life. While the dialogue can sometimes come off as expositional, it’s ultimately effective at realizing its characters in a realistic way. While the film’s events are slowed down by the second and third act, the emotion is still relevant and brings many powerful moments. While some events feel a little bit glamorized or slanted in their point of view (the film does take historical liberties), but it’s methods of storytelling still remains effective in a cinematic way.
A major drawing factor for Selma is it’s remarkable cast. David Oyelowo’s delivers a remarkable lead performance, portraying King as a strong willed and morally driven, yet flawed and human individual. Oyelowo’s multiple speeches and longer conversations deliver many powerful moments, and remains completely immersed in the role, which will surely grant him a Best Actor nomination from the Academy Awards. Tom Wilkinson’s performance also brings a lot to the film, and draws more on to the political intrigue of the film, though the role is definitely slanted to become more antagonistic.
Similarly, Tim Roth is given a outright villainous role in the film. While Wilkinson remains grounded in the role, Roth’s immense acting talent is unfortunately reduced to a slimy caricature. However, other performances like Carmen Ejogo’s role as King’s wife give a more realistic approach to the relationship, and give a more realistic look at the tribulation involved in their relationship. The entire supporting cast, mostly containing King’s group of followers, are all strong and deliver a great on-screen team and a believable friendship.
The film’s editing is good for the most part, and remains a consistent pace. While it definitely slows down, the slower scenes are still necessary and help build the tension. The musical selection is sometimes distracting in it’s use of tracks, which sometimes dilute the film’s dramatic tones. The cinematography sometimes utilizes shaky camerawork, which is definitely distracting in its portrayal of events, but the quick cuts and tight editing help show the brutality of the true life story, and add a complicated level to the film’s scene structure.
Overall, Selma is a powerful film that overcomes its flaws to portray a convincing real life story. The strong writing and powerful performances work to become a strong award season player and exciting social commentary. Grade: -A