Selma (2014)

Selma is a interesting film on several counts and, given recent events in the US, a powerfully prescient and utterly engaging account of Martin Luther King’s involvement with the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march in 1965.  The performances are well rounded (although one wonders where Tim Roth will go next after playing George Wallace and Sepp Blatter, surely Walter Palmer is all that is left) and the script does a great job of highlighting the tactical, and provocative, nature of peaceful protest.

In terms of telling a cinematic tale, the really smart choice here is putting the focus on a march.  The language of cinema is, due to it’s visual nature, simple and the act of walking works perfectly on film.  Walking on film is about agency, it’s the ultimate expression of individual freedom and forward movement.  Think about Tony Manero strutting, the Wild Bunch going to their chosen fate, Lawrence walking out of the desert.  Walking is so important that there are whole films based around not walking; Light Sleeper (1992), Taxi Driver (1976), Cosmopolis (2012) and many more see cars as isolation / retreat from the world.  On film people walk for defiance, acceptance and belonging.  I can’r help but think about the fact that my wife can’t walk home alone at night and what that says about the ownership of public space.

Selma is all about when to walk and why and, most importantly, who is taking those steps.  It reclaims the cinematic portrayal of the Civil Rights struggle from Forrest Gump (white Southern manners ended that school segregation didn’t you know) and heroic FBI agents and hands it to it’s rightful owners.

Highly recommended.

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

The lack at the heart of Ridley Scott’s Biblical epic is faith.  The film can’t decide what it believes or even if it does and this leaves the viewer unsure of what the story is about.  Why is the story of Moses important?  You wouldn’t know from this.

In 1956, when Charlton Heston donned the beard and the big voice, we had a clear story about the right of people to live free.  The Holocaust and the founding of Israel were very recent memories, the Civil Rights movement was under way in the US and the Cold War was here.  The story had context and faith.  Ridley Scott’s context appears to be CGI and 3D and his faith seems supported by the box office receipts of Maximus and Frodo.  All of this manifests itself in a film that resorts to religion only when there’s no other explanation (the tide being out is particularly eye rolling) giving us an underwhelming ‘God of the gaps’ feeling.

I have no faith myself but stories should and, just like Robin Hood (2010) and King Arthur (2004) before it, Scott’s film mistakes the reality of a situation for the truth of the story and throws the baby out with the bathwater.