Rated: PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: December 25, 2014 Released by: Paramount Pictures Corporation
A three-month period chronicling a movement in 1965 led by Rev. Martin LutherKing, Jr. (David Oyelowo of Interstellar and Lee Daniels' The Butler) is vividly, if episodically depicted not as an unhurried limited biopic but from the eponymous Alabama city to Montgomery which led to much strife and hostility in the course of getting a historic bill passed by Congress. One that is effective from a polished production to make noted figures of the period quite visible like Malcolm X and Mahalia Jackson, among others, complements of Ruth E. Carter's costume designs and the make-up and associated effects efforts of over a dozen craft contributors.
Selma co-stars Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey (a producer with her 'Harpo' stamp), and an expressive Carmen Ejogo (Sparkle, Purge: Anarchy) among a large gallery of characters behind an illuminating warmth bearing hope during profound stress and heartbreak. Oyelowo's uncompromising role is the linchpin of tenacity before "I have a dream" during a grueling march with its share of hideous physical and heated discursive encounters even with those running a group of inciters against Dr. King's non-violent stance.
Ana DuVernay, with a background in documentaries and publicity consulting, has an eagle eye for connecting with the obstacles faced by a man called a "moral degenerate" by J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker) and introducing the mood behind the push towards civil rights that wasn't at the top of things to do for Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson of The Grand Budapest Hotel). Especially as the United States was being to become more active in the escalating conflict between North and South Vietnam.
Winfrey's hospice nurse Annie Lee Cooper is met with much opposition when trying to register to vote at Selma's county office, discriminated in her constitutional right by a clerk asking her to name all of its judges. Governor George Wallace, a venal Tim Roth, puts pressure on the President not to stop segregation in his state and the feds keep a close eye on King who wants him to move troops in position to avert what would be horrible abuse by Sheriff Clark (Stan Houston) and state officers, sprinting after those fleeing.
Even the many not familiar with the material should find a stirring legitimacy and verisimilitude from DuVernay's ability as a dramatist during a time long before the slain doctor finally had a holiday established in his name during Republican Ronald Reagan's time in the Oval Office. The determined ebullience by Oyelowo goes a long way to see why arguably the most recognized man of his race could be instrumental in Title IV of the Civil Rights Act coming to fruition. Besides being cognizant of what may happen to marchers when allowed to cross a bridge and thus having the protesters retreat.
By watching Selma a deeper appreciation or time to reflect can occur from the way King was reviled in the way he was and where he was from as his philandering is downplayed when Ejogo's upfront wife Coretta Scott puts him on the spot. It's a canny example of a genre that still has urgency in a time when society is far from color-blind given recent incidents in Missouri and Staten Island, the latter where many have responded by wearing shirts reading "I can't breathe" besides engaging in many a protest, probably some of which Dr. King wouldn't be advocating.