“Unflinching” is a word that can be used to describe quite a few of the film releases of late 2014/early 2015, and Selma is among them. This early ’60s period film, focused the march for black voting rights from Selma, Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery, brings to life the violence faced by protestors simply for exercising their freedom of assembly.
Directed by Ava DuVernay, the film covers the organization of the march — from the selection of the location, to the disagreements between SCLC and SNCC — as well as the multiple attempts that it took for the plans of Dr. King and his fellow organizers to finally come to fruition, in the face of the violence and hatred of the Jim Crow south.
Selma is an important and very timely film, which goes without saying given the recent atmosphere of civil unrest in the United States. It’s also, to put it simply, beautifully-crafted cinema. Though released at the tail end of 2014, it didn’t open near me until January 9, and as a result was my most anticipated film of the first half of 2015. I was not disappointed by it.
I was first struck by the film visually. Not only are the period costumes, make-up and sets on point, but the cinematography is wonderfully executed. The two most striking sequences are the church bombing and the tear gas-filled scene of “Bloody Sunday.” They are also two of the most violent sequences. In these moments the film shines as artistic and visually captivating, while also having a heavy emotional impact on the viewer.
Another visual aspect of the film that impressed me was the use of on-screen text to portray the FBI’s logs of Dr. King’s travels and conversations — a constant reminder that the government that, in theory, should have been protecting the freedoms of these protestors, was instead trailing and investigating the movement’s leaders.
The performances are also stellar. While I was underwhelmed by the way that some of the characters were written (notably, Diane Nash and Coretta Scott King – two courageous and strong women who are given only minor coverage in the film), I appreciate the fact that the cast was perfectly-selected. There isn’t a bad performance in the bunch.
Much attention has been given to the film’s lead, David Oyelowo, and the praise for his performance as Dr. King is well-deserved. His voice, in particular, impressed me. Deepened a bit and given a southern-American affectation, the transformation from what I’ve seen from him in interviews is pretty spectacular. He doesn’t sound just like Dr. King, but he gets pretty darn close.
(On a related note: Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth, British actors playing LBJ and George Wallace, also did a spectacular job with their accents in the film.)
All historical dramas come with their own set of exaggerations and inaccuracies, and Selma is not a film without flaws. However, it is a beautifully-made and incredibly powerful film.