Oscars 2015 Best Picture Nominee Review #4: SELMA | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Nominee Review #4: SELMA

David Oyelowo's commanding portrayal as the 1960s Civil Rights movement leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gives a top notch performance in this stirring but flawed biopic drama.

Over the last four decades since his death in 1968 at the age of 39, Martin Luther King, Jr. was widely known as one of the most influential figures in the American history who famously fought for the 1960s civil rights movement . Throughout the years, his remarkable story has been told in the TV miniseries (1978's King) and the TV movie (2001's BOYCOTT starring Jeffrey Wright) as well as documentaries. But believe it or not, there was never a feature-length movie about this legendary campaigner until now, with director Ava DuVernay took the honour for finally delivering the first-ever major motion picture about the biopic of Martin Luther King, Jr. in SELMA. Ever since its cinema release in the US last year, SELMA has received nearly universal acclaim from many critics with an astounding 98% certified fresh from Rotten Tomatoes. Thanks to the overwhelmingly positive reviews, the movie also been hailed as one of the potential major Oscar contenders. However, instead of a would-be historic event in the Hollywood history, SELMA was famously snubbed for various important categories at this year's Oscar nominations, including Best Director (Ava DuVernay) and Best Actor (David Oyelowo). Despite the fact that SELMA still received 2 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Original Song, many have expressed their outrage over the lack of diversity for the 87th Academy Awards nominations.


Set during the crucial period of the 1960s Civil Rights movement in America, SELMA covers some of the most famous historical events surrounding Nobel Peace Prize-winning Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) in his epic quest to persuade US President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) for solving the racial equality in the voting-rights matter throughout the South. But with Johnson taking little action in the political situation that King has been pressing him to do, King and his civil-rights leaders decided to organise a peaceful march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery.

Prior to the release of SELMA, Ava DuVernay is primarily known as an independent female director who previously made short films, documentaries, TV movies and an indie feature called MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (2012). Although SELMA marks her first studio picture, DuVernay shows plenty of potential in her direction, especially the way she handles large-scale scenarios such as the first march of the "Bloody Sunday" confrontation between Martin Luther King, Jr.'s marchers and the Selma police force on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The movie is also blessed with Bradford Young's beautiful cinematography, who shot on location in Selma itself, while successfully captured the historical sense of time and place during the turbulent 1960s era.

SELMA wouldn't have worked, if not for the tour de force performance from the Oxford-born actor David Oyelowo. Not only he manages to exude the strong charisma of the late Martin Luther King, Jr., but has also successfully delivered the mannerisms as well as the distinctive speech patterns with such passion. His acting is simply remarkable that it remains baffling to me why Oyelowo is ignored by the Academy voters to be nominated in the Best Actor category.

Although I have to admit Oyelowo steals the show in this movie, the supporting actors are equally worthwhile with decent performances from Tom Wilkinson as the US President Lyndon Johnson and Tim Roth as Alabama Governor George Wallace.

The "give us the vote" speech as King inspired 700 Civil Rights movement supporters in the church of Selma are particularly a rousing set-piece.

While I'm glad that DuVernay opted to depict the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. without going too rigid on the typical biopic formula by focusing primarily on some of the important historical moments in his political career, Paul Webb's screenplay is sometimes clunky with certain scenes could have been omitted altogether. For instance, the subplot surrounding the marital struggle of King's wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) over her husband's adultery is particularly weak and underdeveloped.


Universal acclaim aside, SELMA isn't exactly a cinematic masterpiece as I thought it would be. But beyond some of the missteps in SELMA, the movie remains good and effective enough as the first feature-length biopic about Martin Luther King, Jr.

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