Selma is a very good retelling of a very important event in American history, but it doesn't quite make an impact.
Selma, now in theatres, does not quite pack a powerful punch as one would've hoped.
Selma focuses on the three months in 1965 when Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) (played diligently by David Oyelowo) pushed for the passage of voting rights legislation not just in Selma, Georgia but also across the United States, amidst some anti-black sentiment in the country. And it came right after the 16th Street Baptist Church murders where four young black girls were killed by a bomb in Birmingham, Alabama.
So Selma is more about the movement and less about MLK. It's very effective in providing viewers with the drama and humility that blacks had to endure in the U.S. south during this time (which was unbelievably only 50 years ago). A great cast brings this story to life. They include Oyelowo, Billionaire Oprah Winfrey who plays Annie Lee Cooper, a black woman who goes to register to vote but is denied, thus igniting the movement, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King - MLK's long-suffering wife, and other actors who play leaders of the movement, among them Colman Domingo as Ralph Abernathy and Common as James Bevel.
Director Ava DuVernay helms her first big Hollywood production, and it's credit to Winfrey's Harpo Productions and Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment to give her the reins to this retelling of an important historical event in the U.S. But she doesn't quite pull it off. While it does have its share of emotional moments, it lacks one huge one to sweeps the viewer off his feet. The first Selma to Montgomery march the activists lead is taut and dramatic. But the second time they do is less so. A standoff between the activists in front of the courthouse looks a bit staged, hence unrealistic. And the final scene that has King giving what should be a powerful speech is drowned out by background music. It's a moment when the viewers should be moved, but King's words are barely heard. And Director DuVernay decided to play with history by making President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) reluctant to make the Voting Rights act a top priority, when in reality Johnson was all for it.
Selma is a bit like A Long Walk to Freedom (the story of Nelson Mandela) - a good film that cannot live up to it's subject.
The performances, however, are excellent. It's too bad that Oyelowo missed out on a Best Actor Oscar nomination for this film - he's that good, but it was a very competitive year for actors. The film does deserve more than it's two Oscar nominations (Best Picture and Best Song) - but unfortunately the production company was slow in getting DVD screeners out to members of the academy, a delay which meant that not every Academy member was perhaps not at home during the holidays to receive theirs. But Selma is worth a watch to get a grasp on what it was like in the deep south in American back then.