Plays like a dry school textbook; no flourishes of life in sight.
David Oyelowo’s slow-motion manner of speaking (as Martin Luther King) was the most striking feature in this proper, respectful and thoroughly unexciting film. His formal, unhurried delivery and priestly self-composure were even more funny when delivered in domestic situations (when he talked to his wife Coretta), where they seemed out of place.
Even if Oyelowo’s everyday meditativeness was interesting to watch, the rest of Selma was unsurprisingly earnest, merely illustrational, subtly reverential. Disappointingly straight, purely educational and pre-modern in its approach to material, linearly showing a thinly sliced part of MLK’s life (from accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway to marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965). Cautious because of its tightrope race-relations theme (even if in an agreed-upon historical form). If the aim was to render a textbook about Civil Rights Movement and its many heroes in a motion-picture form, without any interesting or distracting (depending on your views) flourishes that make genuine cinema, that’s what was achieved. The only unusual part was to be found below-the-line (the film’s director — Ava DuVernay — is a black woman, a rarity in this profession). Not that this translated into a movie with a unique point of view — there was nothing distinct and specific about her piece of work. The acting was just all-right. White authorities (especially those in the White House) were made to look and sound like calculating, still and tradition-bound assholes. The whites in the south were totally backwoods. Blacks were varied, many handsome, righteous, oppressed, under pressure and in search of dignity and freedom.
The film was nondescript, also in terms of cinematography. As it tends to in movies about predominantly black characters, there was lots of cultivating dim yellow light in interior scenes. The overall look leaned toward warm hues and un-rich color black and shadows. Some scenes (of violence) contained slow-motion. A good example of all of those features together was a scene where black girls were descending a staircase and a bomb went off.
The future of the story was explained in last-scene captions. The typewriter-variety subtitles explained the setting of many scenes in unnecessary detail, which was a dubious choice, only chosen to show that the government kept track of every move of black activists and considered them a threat (the point which has already been made in numerous dialogue scenes in the White House).