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dir Ava DuVernay
scr Paul Webb
prd Christian Colson, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Oprah Winfrey
with David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey, Giovanni Ribisi, Common, Stephan James, Andre Holland, Colman Domingo, Omar J Dorsey, Alessandro Nivola
release US 25.Dec.14, UK 6.Feb.15
14/US Pathe 2h02
We will overcome: Oyelowo and Ejogo
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Making a biopic about someone as iconic as Martin Luther King Jr must have been a daunting challenge, but this film is an impressive balance of beautiful directing, writing and acting. Instead of turning King into a saintly hero, this is a portrait of a normal man who raises his voice when no one else knows what to say.
In Selma, Alabama, the black population is prohibited from voting due to racially motivated registration laws. So civil rights leader King (Oyelowo) and his activist wife Coretta (Ejogo) offer to help. King meets with President Lyndon Johnson (Wilkinson), who has other things on his mind, then heads to Selma to lead a march to the state capitol in Montgomery. After the marchers are met with hideous violence, ordered by Governor George Wallace (Roth), they regroup and plan a second protest. But first King needs to challenge Johnson to sort out his priorities.
The script covers just the months between King being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm and his ultimate arrival in Montgomery, bookending the film with two of his most stirring speeches. Other stirring sermons are used at key points along the way, reminding the audience of the fact that King was a charismatic preacher driven by his faith-based moral convictions. And Oyelowo beautifully echoes this, grounding his performance with a sense of honest searching and a knowledge of his own imperfections.
Meanwhile, Wilkinson gives an equally pungent turn as the feisty Johnson, a hard-headed man who takes a long time to listen to his own inner voice. Less open to argument, so far less layered, Roth's Wallace is a snarling racist brute. And the large supporting cast adds depth at every turn (plus punchy cameos from Cuba Gooding Jr, Martin Sheen and Dylan Baker). First-time screenwriter Webb proves particularly adept at bringing out the story's big themes while building a strong sense of the relationships between a large number of people.
Director DuVernay orchestrates all of this with a sure hand, keeping the focus on what's important and making sure the characters remain gritty and truthful. Issues are boiled down to their roots ("What good is equality if you can't read because your school was underfunded?"), and by refusing to perpetuate a myth, she paints a portrait that's properly inspirational. King was a man who merely did the right thing at the right time with what he had: a voice of moral authority. And since these issues are still so relevant, this story is perhaps even more important today.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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