Ava DuVernay's Selma is stylistically riveting and has a narrative complexity that raises it from "theater of the aggrieved" onto another iridescent plane. Of the three main bio-pics I've seen this season -- the others being The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game -- Selma is the most elegant in dealing with its lead character's flaws. A brief but powerful scene between Martin (a mesmerizing David Oyelowo) and Coretta King (the lovely Carmen Ejogo), on the eve of yet another confrontation between black citizens and Alabama police, has the couple engage the civil rights leader's infidelities without rancor. This is not to say the moment is painless, for Coretta is clearly wounded and Martin, decisive in his dealings with President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), is cowed not so much by his wife's injury or disapproval but, it seems, by his own sinfulness. Masterful. Yes, the film is about King's efforts to rally a somnolent nation to force Selma to do the right thing and stop blocking blacks from voting. But, the greater the distance from that event and the heroism reflected in facing down hate, the clearer the picture becomes of the levels of engagement needed to get hundreds of people over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 and on to freedom. Highly recommended.


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