Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Review: Selma

World of Blackout Film Review

Selma Poster

Cert: 12A / 128 mins / Dir. Ava DuVernay / Trailer
WoB Rating: 6/7

And there was me thinking all the Important™ films were done for the year. This relatively late entry to the Films You Really Should See Before All The Explosions-and-Superhero-Movies Start category centres around the voting-rights marches from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, led by Martin Luther King Jr. The film opens in 1964 with King being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, yet still being strung along on civil-rights issues by the then-president Johnson.

Although it rarely pushes the boundaries of its 12A certificate, Selma isn't always an easy-watch (and nor is it meant to be). A lot of the racial tension in the first act feels slightly melodramatic (not unlike The Butler*1, with whom it shares four cast members, oddly), until you almost instantly remember that while the film isn't a documentary, the events in it were documented and did happen.

There's a definite feeling that at times Selma is only presenting one aspect of a much larger story (which it is, by its own admission, but even so…), and that a viewer will get more from the film if they already know all the details anyway. Scripted exposition helps set the timeline, but I didn't feel fully immersed until the final act. Overall, the whole thing seems to work better as a historical document than a work presenting any new insight into political ideals. Then again, how much of a fresh take is really needed when the principles of the story are so apparent?

David Oyelowo's performance is absolutely astounding as Martin Luther King, to the point where you forget you're watching an actor (similar to Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady). The supporting cast is also incredibly strong and has a heavy Brit-presence (Ejogo, Roth, Wilkinson in addition to Oyelowo) considering all the characters are American. Although it has to be said that Tom Wilkinson's performance as President Lyndon Johnson is better than his accent. Speaking of whom, it interested me to note that Johnson is explicitly shown as 'doing the right thing' because of its perceived effect on his legacy, rather than steadfastly believing in it. I'm afraid my US history isn't much of anything, so if any readers could let me know whether this is an accurate assessment, that'd be lovely, thanks.

Elsewhere, Oprah Winfrey is always just Oprah Winfrey before any character she plays. And while the set and wardrobe departments all give an outstanding display of 1965, Common looks so out of place it's almost like he's stepped out of a time-machine, somehow. But we also get some beautiful moments of clean, atmospheric photography from lens-chief Bradford Young, that I wished had continued for longer.

But aside from my snarky criticisms and wanting to be spoon-fed history, Selma is a very good film, and you really should see it.

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
It is, although catch it while you can since it doesn't seem to have that wide of a release from where I'm sitting.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
Probably a renter. As great as it is, it's debatable how often you'll watch it.

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
For Oyelowo, certainly.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does, but nothing more than that.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Maybe a little.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
David Oyelowo is the voice of Agent Kallus in Star Wars Rebels.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Sorry, that should be Lee Daniels' The Butler. Sorry, Lee. Sorry. That's World Of Blackout's Sorry.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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