While watching Selma you forget that Martin Luther King Jr. is no longer with us. David Oyelowo absolutely comes alive in this role. Selma accurately helps us understand King’s impact and paints him as the larger-than-life man that he was. However, you feel his struggles–his fear that this may all be for nothing. But he convinces himself that it won’t happen–and it doesn’t.
While the director, Ava DuVernay, is superb in her ability to paint this fear along with the fear of the people, she fails to capture the grandiose of the turning points. She handles the buildups of emotions and tensions with great subtlety, but with this not being a story seen through to King’s assassination she must give us climactic intensity through other means. Not to say that this movie isn’t intense, but the build up keeps escalating to reach–not an explosion–but just a peak. And then the film ends. Oyelowo’s performance gives us chills, but nothing else does. LBJ’s speech leaves us wanting more, and the southern segregationists don’t seem as disappointed as we would like them to be.
But I applaud Selma for not taking the cliched easy route by depicting King’s assassination. Instead, it leaves you hoping and, just like me, allowing the image of the man living on.
Much like 2012’s Lincoln, it’s a film that helps us understand the politics behind the politics. However, unlike Lincoln, which gives a lot of detail without a lot of relatable intensity, Selma portrays events that happened right around the corner from where we are right now. We can still imagine that time. Not that that’s bad in Lincoln’s case, it just might make this movie more appealing to more of the younger demographic.
Now in a movie that’s as great of a watch as Selma, it’s hard to write a review that has criticisms. So note that my criticisms don’t mean that it’s still not a great film. It’s a really really great film and one that moves us. And it might be earth shattering for many, but a few of us will find it not outstanding from other civil rights films. I mean, it tells a terrific story, but just doesn’t exactly have that finishing oomph that we crave the whole time.