Race Discrimination, Police Brutality, Protests. Question are we talking 50 years ago here or like last week?
“Selma” is a dramatic recreation and telling of the civil rights protests and marches that took place in Selma Alabama at the height of the fight against segregation and discrimination in the south. The story centers around Martin Luther King Jr.s involvement and leadership and the fight especially for voting equality in the mid 60s. The film not only touches on race issues, but explores the inside structure, struggle, and politics of the civil rights movement as well as the heart and mind of MLKJr and those closest to him during that time. It’s an extremely compelling story and journey made all the more relevant by recent national headlines. It just feels like an important movie released at the right time, and thankfully done well enough to have a genuine impact.
In fact its done really well. Selma succeeds in exactly the ways you would expect an awards contender to succeed. Beautifully shot and scored, wonderfully written in a way that is both educational and entertaining, and full of the kind of magnificent performances that capture you with intensity and grandeur. King especially feels like the real deal, enough so that I wondered if a couple of surfers from San Dimas had kidnapped the real MLK and brought him to the set in an old phone booth. Seriously, truly impressive. I think the movie also benefits from focussing on such a small slice of MLK’s life, zeroing in on the events surrounding the Selma marches. So many times I feel like biopics try to squeeze these life stories into a couple hours and it doesn’t give the important moments enough space to really breathe, but I wonder if there is something to be said about telling these life stories in pieces. You’d think with as crazy hungry as Hollywood is for franchises these days that the historical franchise would be the next step. Why tell the story of James Brown in one movie when you can find 5 different key points and release them as sequels? I mean if the tiny little Hobbit book can be 3 movies certainly the life of Lincoln could be too. My point is Selma benefits from the extra room to really live in this moment in time. Speaking of moments in time, I also don’t underestimate how the power of this movie is exponentially increased by what we’ve been through recently with Mike Brown and other headlines. The movie hits home deeply as we ponder how things have changed and how they haven’t. What’s astounding is that even as topical as it is, it never feels preachy, off balance, or political in a detrimental way. Front to back it plays its cards with grace, humility, and confidence just the way MLK managed to carry himself as well.
So what about negatives? Well, there really isn’t much, if I had to nitpick, I’d say maybe the film pacing in the first half hour is a bit slow as it gets going, but it’s barely noticeable and probably something only an overthinking film reviewer with a best thing worst thing gimmick would even bring up.
Overall, Selma is the most relevant movie I’ve seen in a long time. Well made, brilliantly acted, with a message that is poignant without being preachy. It reminds us who we’ve been, who we are, and most importantly who we want to be and marches resolutely to a powerful A.