Inspiring, emotional, typical. Ava Duvernay’s envisioning of history offers nothing that has not been seen before in film artistically, but still manages to educate and relay the real struggles and turmoil felt during Martin Luther King’s battle for equality. Recommended? This movie is best suited for students in history classes, as its educational value mildly outweighs its entertainment value.
The only (but important) area where Selma falls flat is in its delivery and pacing. The screenplay is very well-written, but a lot of the dramatic pauses are very unnecessary and run the risk losing the audience’s interest during certain scenes. In a movie that portrays one of the greatest public speakers in modern history, delivery is extremely important because that is how King gripped his audience; he used his unstoppable charisma to spread his message. In the scenes where he is making speeches, David Oyewolo’s delivery is perfect. But when he and everyone else are talking on a more personal basis, the pauses and drawn out phrases make it difficult to follow any single line of thought.
Other than this, the many production efforts of this movie come together to a high standard. One of the more successful elements, however brief, was the success in the use of archival footage. It is used in the final march scene to show the real life protestors from the 1960s on their march alongside the movie actors. This was successfully done because unlike in similar past attempts, such as in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, the archival footage did not feature any of the movie’s main characters. It focussed solely on the other marchers and their activities on the march. This way, the audience is not disillusioned by seeing the real Martin Luther King Jr, but can instead keep Oyewolo’s interpretation in mind.
Doing this also allowed the strong performances from the main actors to resonate. These include Tom Wilkinson, who had the job of portraying President Lyndon Johnson as both concerned and preoccupied. He needed to play the man who was heroic at heart, but antagonistic in his position and did so with ease. There was also Tim Roth, who played Governor George Wallace. Roth’s acting is quite hit or miss, but he gave his all to this ruthless and closed-minded character. But David Oyewolo stole this show. His delivery had the same vigour that made Martin Luther King Jr. the renowned figure that he is today.
Selma gives its audience everything that they can expect to get out of it: a modern look at one of the most inspirational figures in history in a story that inspires using both tragedy and hope. It’s a tall tale to tell, but Duvernay manages to portray this story successfully. Despite some high octane and shocking moments scattered throughout, it keeps a generally slow pace throughout. But for the really powerful scenes that this masterpiece has to offer, Selma is definitely worth watching.