‘Selma’ Review: Oyelowo And DuVernay’s Vivid MLK Bio-Pic

November 12, 2014 6:56 PM

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‘Selma’ Review: Oyelowo And DuVernay’s Vivid MLK Bio-Pic

A half-century on from Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic voting-rights march from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery, director Ava DuVernay revisits those events with startling immediacy, dramatic force and filmmaking verve in “Selma.” A far cry from the dutiful biopic or ossified history lesson it could have become in lesser hands (or the campy free-for-all the project’s original director, Lee Daniels, might have made of it), DuVernay’s razor-sharp portrait of the civil rights movement — and Dr. King himself — at a critical crossroads is as politically astute as it is psychologically acute, giving us a human-scale King whose indomitable public face belies currents of weariness and self-doubt. Bolstered by Paul Webb’s literate, well-researched script and David Oyelowo’s graceful, majestic lead performance, DuVernay has made the kind of movie that gives year-end “prestige” pics a good name, which should equate to considerable box-office and awards-season gold for this Dec. 25 Paramount release.

While King has figured as a peripheral character in many civil-rights-themed dramas including Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” “The Long Walk Home” (about the Montgomery bus riders’ boycott) and the recent “The Butler,” the only attempt at a full-fledged King biopic to date was the three-part 1978 TV minise...

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