We braved the rain the other night (yes, it actually rained in Santa Barbara – for two days, in fact – and hopefully the percip helped the drought conditions) and went to the Arlington Theater to see “Selma.” The night before on his MSNBC show, Lawrence O’Donnell had gone into such a state of rhapsody over the movie that, in addition to many other glowing reviews as well as the timeliness of the subject and my own interest in the civil rights movement, I was eager to see “Selma” – particularly on the eve of the Golden Globes awards.
The good news: David Oyelowo, yet another Brit playing an American icon (lots of them these days), gets Martin Luther King Jr.’s vocal cadences amazingly well. The bad news: I wish there’d been more fiery speeches to show off his talent. “Selma” is a more ruminative movie than one that gets you up on your feet shouting “Amen.” It shows King in quiet, contemplative moments – too many of them for me. We see him strategizing with his close group of advisers. We see him trying to make his point with LBJ (Tim Wilkinson, another Brit playing a legendary American). We see him navigating strained marital waters with his wife Coretta. And all of these contemplative moments move at a very slow pace, many in darkly lit spaces.
It’s when “Selma” opened up and showed us the people of Selma and the consequences of their fight for their right to vote that the movie came alive for me. Their courage, their persistence even in the face of formidable opposition, even in the face of unyielding Alabama Governor George Wallace (another Brit, Tim Roth), was inspirational and riveting. But as for King himself? Let’s put it this way. As I was coming out of the ladies’ room after the movie, I heard several women echo my own thought, which was: “How can a story about such a magnetic man make him seem so un-magnetic?” The film was emotionally flat in places where it needed to soar. I was disappointed.