Film Review: Selma (★★★★)

selma posterPassionate, informative, and tenderly told, Ava DuVernay‘s vision of Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight for voters’ rights is fully realized in her newest film “Selma.” Written by Paul Webb, the film is ambitious, moving, and features a performance fit for the history books from David Oyelowo.  It’s one of the single best things you can see in 2014.

In a time where the state of our country is in disarray over race and politics, “Selma” hits our doorsteps at the right time for both sides of the coin to indulge and see how far we’ve come, or how little we actually have.  “Selma” shows the good and the bad, the perfect and imperfect characteristics of one of the most important figures in the fight for civil rights.  There’s respect, which goes without question, but there’s an emotional and raw honesty that DuVernay and Webb choose to tell us about the man who was Dr. King.  She doesn’t paint the rosey picture you’d come to expect from standard biopics these days.  She lays it out, leaving us to decide for ourselves if something outside of what he contributed to our country is great enough to look passed.  DuVernay offers in many ways, the single best direction of the year.

Invigorating from beginning to end, David Oyelowo owns every frame of the picture.  You don’t see performances like this too often especially of a real-life figure like MLK.  I go back to works like Denzel Washington (“Malcolm X”), Ben Kingsley (“Gandhi”), and George C. Scott (“Patton”) to find a more jaw-dropping or complex acting performance.  Something like this only seems to come around once a decade.  This may be our decade’s.  It’s more than just the embodiment, it’s the decisions in the silence that makes Oyelowo so amazing.  You will remember this performance forever.

The entire cast does an admirable to amazing job in their respective roles.  Carmen Ejogo is simply electrifying as Coretta Scott King.  An impeccable example of wearing the emotions and feelings at the brim without letting go.  Just sensational top to bottom.

Despite some hiccups in the accent department, Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth are serviced well as Lyndon B. Johnson and George Wallace.  Both have their opportunities to stand out in their respective scenes but ultimately stand as reminders that we are eagerly waiting to get back to Dr. King.

DuVernay’s triumph comes from the extras and smaller name cast she utilizes as sprinkles in every instance that they appear.  Stan Houston as the treacherous Sherriff Clark is superbly focused and embodies the mindset of every unfortunate person of hate during the time.  Henry G. Sanders and Keith Stanfield in many ways become the heart and soul of the film without no more than just a few moments of screen time.  Oprah Winfrey and Lorraine Toussaint also execute their roles proficiently.

The slick and vivacious manner in which “Selma” is assembled is thanks to the genius people behind the camera.  Cinematographer Bradford Young is just too great at what he does at this point in his career.  With another stunning framing form in J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year,” he rises in the ranks to join Roger Deakins and Emmanuel Lubezki as one of the most exciting DP’s.  Spencer Averick’s editing keeps “Selma” on pace, and engaging 100% of the time.  Jason Moran’s score is palpable and justified in every sense of its usage.

Selma” is just a joy to behold, a magnificent example of passionate filmmaking that lacked sorely in 2014.  It propels DuVernay among the ranks of the best filmmakers working today.  Naturally brought to tears, it’s a gut-wrenching and honest look into our history.  Fulfilling, promised, and profound.  One of the year’s best films.

Selma” opens in limited release on Christmas Day and goes wide on January 9.  It is distributed by Paramount Pictures.