Superb ‘Selma’ pays homage to King, marchers
By Bob Bloom
“Selma” is a very good movie that, were it not for a few false notes, could have been a great film.
Set in 1965, the movie follows the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. to secure the right to vote for blacks in the South.
Despite passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Southern states still used various and questionable methods to keep blacks from the polls.
This emotionally charged movie will make you weep as you watch the cruelties and indignities heaped upon peaceful citizens who sought the same basic rights enjoyed by other Americans.
They want their voices to be heard — and risk death, injury and jail to secure that constitutional guarantee.
“Selma” excels in its presentation of King (David Oyelowo) as a man instead of a symbol. He realizes his goal will mean bloodshed, lives and sacrifice. He is more than willing to pay the price.
Yet, at times, he doubts his course especially after he sees those who answer his call beaten, battered and, yes, killed.
His strength is renewed when he sees the majority of those same people rise and return to the front lines. They are wounded but not cowed.
“Selma’s” major misstep is in how it presents such figures as President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkerson) and Alabama Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth).
Making Johnson more of an antagonist than an ally of King is dramatically unnecessary. With people such as Sheriff Jim Clark, his deputies and Alabama state troopers as protagonists, adding LBJ to the mix is not only historically inaccurate, but feels like the cinematic version of piling on.
In truth, LBJ was a strong supporter of King and his movement. But Hollywood movies thrive on tension and conflict, so perhaps director Ava DuVernay, who also wrote the script with Paul Webb, decided another roadblock was needed to hinder King’s quest.
If so, it was the wrong choice.
Roth’s performance as Wallace is rather cartoonish and plays like something out of a Tennessee Williams drama, rather than a historical chronicle.
In its defense, “Selma” is not meant to be a documentary, but rather a dramatization of a monumental struggle that changed the face of the United States — leading to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
So, these inaccuracies should not detract from the overall message and sweeping majesty of “Selma.” This heartfelt achievement highlights a battle that this nation, shamefully, should not have had to endure in the first place.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at Reel Bob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
3 ½ stars out of 4
(PG-13), disturbing images of violence, adult themes, language