Review by Gordon Justesen
Oyelowo,Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Giovanni Ribisi, Alessandro Nivola, Cuba
Gooding Jr., Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey
Director: Ava DuVernay
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length 128 Minutes
Release Date: May 5, 2015
“We heard them say we’d never make it here...”
It’s one thing for a film to be a historical lesson, but for one to feel like history unfolding before your eyes is a feat rarely accomplished, and that’s precisely what the magnificent, potent, and tremendously unforgettable Selma does on a monumental scale. On top of that, it’s remarkably acted and a riveting piece of filmmaking. It is unquestionably the very best film of 2014!
The recreation of the people and events surrounding a crucial moment in the Civil Rights movement has been done to meticulously powerful effect by director Ava DuVernay, and free of any false notes. History literally unfolds on the screen in both the horrific (one of the opening scenes shows the horrific church bombing of the four little girls) and the beautiful (the final scenes showcasing the victory that has been achieved). This is anything but a by-the-numbers historical drama thanks to the ground-breaking authenticity that has been applied.
At the heart of it all is one of the greatest screen performances you will ever witness by British actor David Oyelowo as Dr. King. Within seconds of first seeing his face, you forget you’re watching an actor, as Oyelowo fully embodies the man in a manner that goes way beyond uncanny. And it’s not a show-off performance at all for a single second, but a flawless recreation of a legendary historical figure in the same way that Daniel Day-Lewis’ recreation of Abraham Lincoln was.
The film details Dr. King’s plea with President Lyndon Johnson (played to perfection by Tom Wilkinson) to provide a fair order of treatment to blacks in the south who have been denied the voting rights allowed to all Americans, thanks to Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth). Johnson doesn’t feel it’s the right time to move in this direction, and so King is left with no choice to take his fight down to Selma. It is there where the biggest moment in the fight for racial equality would take place.
Even in the aftermath of two violence plagued protest marches, Dr. King managed to orchestrate a march from Selma to Montgomery. And the film brilliantly reveals to us that Dr. King had immense pressure on him. This was not just from the brutal police, opposing politicians and those unwilling to support him...but he had doubts of himself as a true leader knowing that this march may lead to the unwanted deaths of many.
But the cause was too important to put off, as beautifully illustrated in the film’s concluding moments (flawlessly mixing in historical footage) as we witness the achievement attained by Dr. King and the thousands who marched alongside him, black and white. President Johnson would sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 just a few months later. We would sadly lose Dr. King three years later, but the victory he helped to win and his influence live on to this very day.
In terms of historical docudramas, Selma deserves to be ranked amongst the greatest ones ever made. Though almost nearly ignored at the oscars (Mr. Oyelowo not even getting Best Actor nomination will be one of The Academy’s biggest missteps ever), it’s very much high above everything else that was nominated, for me at least. It’s an important cinematic achievement that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, must see!
Paramount’s Blu-ray handling of this film is every bit as striking as the film itself! There are many powerful images here, courtesy of some truly remarkable cinematography by Bradford Young. The colors are nothing short of astounding. Added to that, both daytime and nighttime sequences are given amazing visual treatment. A bold piece of filmmaking deserves such a grand treatment, and that’s exactly what is at hand here!
The DTS HD mix serves this film tremendously well at a 100%. Every possible element, from dialogue delivery to music playback to even the hard to watch moments of brutality are given a knockout balance work. It’s mainly a dialogue oriented piece but has been given a superb level of attention in the sound area in pretty much every individual scene. A flawless piece of work!
This Blu-ray release from Paramount is a tremendous package, starting with two commentaries. The first is with director Ava DuVernay and actor David Oyelowo, and the second with DuVernay, director of photography Bradford Young and editor Spencer Averick. There’s also two well made featurettes, “The Road to Selma” and “Recreating Selma”, as well as Deleted and Extended Scenes, the music video for the oscar winning song “Glory” by John Legend and Common. a collection of Historical newsreel clips and images, a brief appreciation to donors who helped donate 300,000 tickets to students, a glimpse at the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute and, lastly, a written discussion guide about the film.
When speaking of important films, Selma will have a long lasting impact just like that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself. The acting, filmmaking and all around production are of the highest possible order, and is a reminder of just how powerful films can be! A film not to be missed by anyone!