The Reverend Martin Luther King is one of my heroes, and he deserves a truly great film to honour his memory. Unfortunately, Selma is merely a good film, albeit one with an outstanding performance from David Oyelowo that bizarrely failed to register in the Oscar nominations.
Following the present trend of focussing on a single event rather than a cradle to grave biopic (ala Lincoln), Selma begins post King’s legendary I-have-a-dream speech and concludes before his murder. It highlights his 1965 battle to gain new legislation to secure equal voting rights, using a march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama to gain publicity and support that will put pressure on President Lyndon Johnson to see his point of view.
Director Ava DuVernay is solid, and does a good job of hiding the budgetary restrictions, but to be honest this lacks the searing anger and sheer dramatic fire that, say, an Oliver Stone at his peak could have brought to proceedings. The supporting cast – including Oprah Winfrey, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Carmen Ejogo, Andre Holland and Cuba Gooding Jr – are good, but this is unquestionably Oyelowo’s film. Selma really comes to life whenever King gives speeches, and those moments provide a hint at what the film could have been.
All things considered, this is a worthwhile biopic about a clear cut case of good versus evil from all too recent history. Selma is certainly highly commendable, but unlike the good Reverend it is not, alas, destined for greatness.