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The Films of Ava DuVernay

This Is the Life

I Will Follow

Middle of Nowhere

Selma (January 9/14)

A well-intentioned yet persistently underwhelming drama, Selma details Martin Luther King's (David Oyelowo) efforts to secure equal voting rights during the 1960s - with King's efforts building to a historic march from Selma to Montgomery. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay has infused Selma with precisely the sort of slick, Oscar-ready sensibility that one has come to associate with movies of this ilk, and it's not surprising to note that the picture is, as a result, rarely as engrossing or captivating as DuVernay has surely intended - with the arms-length atmosphere compounded by an overlong running time and often excessively deliberate pace. It's equally clear, however, that Oyelowo's superb performance goes a long way towards smoothing over the movie's many deficiencies, as the actor does a fantastic job of stepping into the shoes of one of the 20th century's most iconic figures. (Oyelowo deserves credit, too, for humanizing a man that easily could've been portrayed as a saint.) As good as he and the supporting cast are, however, Selma remains pitched at a level of watchable mediocrity from start to finish - with DuVernay's inability to cultivate even a wisp of momentum preventing the film from taking flight. It doesn't help, either, that the narrative has been suffused with a whole host of padded and flat-out needless sequences, with the most obvious example of this virtually all of the scenes revolving around King's relationship with his wife. It's a shame, really, given that Selma does boast a number of stirring moments - eg King's ongoing conversations with President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) - and a rousing final stretch that attempts (yet fails) to elicit an emotional response from the viewer. The end result is an effort that often seems to be trying too hard to earn its designation as an Important Movie, which is a shame, really, given the strength of Oyelowo's work here and the incredibly timely nature of the film's content and message.

out of

© David Nusair