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In almost every scene shot by cinematographer Bradford Young (Pariah, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), there is a level of expertise and finesse that ultimately makes the viewer uncomfortable while watching certain sequences. The aforementioned scene with Oprah Winfrey’s Annie Lee Cooper character finds her on the receiving end of a vicious beatdown by police officers. Young deftly captures every strike, every baton bruise, and in one very cinematic shot, places a DSLR waist rig on Oprah, herself, to place the audience up close for when the police slam Cooper down to the hard concrete. Throughout Selma there are some extremely hard parts to watch, in part because of the real life similarities to the Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies. The terrible costs paid by activists such as Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield), Amelia Boynton (Lorraine Toussaint) and John Lewis (Stephan James) resonate just as loud today as they did back in 1965. These episodes are excruciatingly painful to experience in the theatre. Not just because of what the audiences witnesses, but because of just how much they are still going on in today’s world.
All through Selma the players in this picture passionately portray their roles beautifully. From Tim Roth’s villainous depiction of Alabama governor George Wallace to Dylan Baker’s swarmy portrayal of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the stars aligned in a way where everyone dynamically showcases their skills in Ava DuVernay’s masterpiece. David Oyelowo magnificently plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a way very rarely, if ever, seen on screen. Visually striking, his resemblance to the late Civil Rights martyr is uncanny, yet Oyelowo does not regale us with symbolic cadences of memorable speeches or other iconic moments. Instead, he gives us a rich, arresting and compassion-filled performance as a man, one capable of mistakes, eager to fight for what he believes in, and strong enough to handle the responsibility of defending a defenseless nation. A scene between King and his wife where the subject of infidelity is bandied about by the FBI is an interesting masterclass in two-person scenework, to which, Ava DuVernay rightfully deserves her Golden Globe (and possible Academy Award) nomination.
Selma is vital for today, as it mirrors events that happened in the past. Oyelowo and his ensemble cast, which includes Wendell Pierce (Treme), Common (Every Secret Thing) and Tessa Thompson (Dear White People) are broad, funny, deep and uniformly on point. As King, Oyelowo impacts the screen by delivering moving testimonies to faith and resiliency where lesser actors might have faltered. Truthfully, this is one of the year’s best films to watch. Comparisons to 12 Years A Slave and Lincoln aside, Selma works on so many levels as a movie because it shows what Dr. King did for the human race and questions what was left undone in the America we live in today.
You can watch the trailer for Selma in the clip below:
Selma will be released in select theaters on Christmas Day, with a nationwide release on Jan.Â 9, 2015.
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