Studio: Paramount (2 hr. 7 min.)
Plot: A chronicle of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. in 1965.
Cast: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Common, Tim Roth, Andre Holland, Lorrine Toussaint, Oprah Winfrey
Bottom Line: ***1/2
By Laurence Washington
The appealing thing about “Selma,” is that Martin Luther King Jr. is drawn by human dimensions. The filmmakers don’t soft-peddle the legendary leader’s life. King is not a saint, but he has saintly aspirations. He’s flawed with domestic problems and self-doubt. But as with many historic figures, the times make the man. And David Oyelowo’s performance as King rising to lead a movement against injustice during the turbulent ‘60s is convincing.
“Selma” opens with a nervous King preparing to receive the Noble Peace Prize. He’s uncomfortable in a suit with an ascot, as his wife Coretta Scott-King (Carmen Ejogo) reassures him that he’ll be fine.
The problem with all biopics is filmmakers are faced with the challenge of having two hours to tell a story. So people who lived through the Civil Rights Movement might notice omissions and different interpretations of events, but “Selma” is not a History Channel production or a high school civic lesson. It’s a snapshot of the three months in 1965 leading up to King’s historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. – a march that lit a fire under a reluctant President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to sign into law the Voting Rights Act.
The filmmakers vividly capture 1960’s negative racial attitudes toward blacks in America, punctuated by a shocking scene at the beginning of the film, and the brutality protesters suffered at the hands of Alabama State Trooper’s batons. The scenes are disturbing, and not for the faint of heart. A shade lighter are the amazing British actors, Oyelowo, Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth (as Alabama governor, George Wallace), who make such believable Southerners.
Tense, potent and emotional, Selma is an excellent biopic of a moment in time that changed voting rights for African-Americans in this country.
This article was printed in the February 8, 2015 - February 21, 2015 edition.