I'm not going to pretend I knew a whole lot about Martin Luther King going into this movie, because I did not. What I did (and still do) know is how he is thought of by the general public in my part of the country (that country being the United States), which is to say not as a real man. He is either considered a somewhat contemporary American hero, along the lines of Thomas Jefferson and Abe Lincoln, or he's considered a troublemaking nuisance who was given his own holiday to calm black American unrest, which says quite a bit about the culture of this country, which ever way you look at him (the second interpretation of King is especially telling). So, as you can see, I didn't have much to go on King going into this movie, the Civil Rights movement was only brushed over in my school system (both in elementary and high school) and I did not take a Civil Rights class in college, though I wish I had. Knowing our recent past gives us a good idea of how we got where we are, and why things have or have not changed. Well, that's enough background information about the base knowledge I had going into Selma, here is my review.
Selma tells the story of the 1965 voting rights marches that took place from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. The violence and brutality in this movie, while not graphic on the level of a gory horror movie, is none the less disturbing because of its utter realism. Every scene we see on screen we know is something that happened in our country. We see white policemen riding on horseback whipping men, women and children as they attempt to cross a bridge toward the capital to demand their legal right to vote, which was being denied illegally by the state of Alabama. We watch as black men and women are beat with billy clubs for peacefully (and silently) protesting for their right to vote in front of the Selma courthouse.
The film not only does a great job of tastefully (and unapologetically) depicting the violence of the Selma marches, but it also shows the man King was. An intelligent man, who knew the only way to push back against the illegal denial of black civil rights was by showing the white American world just what that denial looked like (black people were being killed in masses before King marched through the streets of Selma, there just weren't any cameras rolling). It shows his moments of doubts, the heavy weight the deaths of those who followed had on his spirits, and it lets us glimpse the strain his activism had on his marriage. Most of all it shows that this movement was something King was himself prepared to die for, which as we all know he eventually did, in 1968, at the age of 39.
Selma is a great biopic, and a great film. I give it 4 1/2 stars.