In some ways, the absence of “I Have a Dream” from Selma, incredibly only the first feature film to give the biopic treatment to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, is symbolic of the film as a whole. It’s the four words the civil right leader is most known for, but director Ava DuVernay is interested in far more than just compelling oratory.
Selma focuses its gaze on a three-month period in 1965 when King (David Oyelowo) led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights for African-American citizens. The first act sets up the shrewd tactics necessary to induce change; Having campaigned in Albany for nine months with no results, it’s decided that Selma is the place to stage the protest, the county already a fervent breeding ground of racial inequality and therefore more likely to garner media attention. While the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) work diligently to force President Lyndon B. Johnson (an effective Tom Wilkinson) into action, the film also offers up an examination of how the civil rights movement affected its leader, both at home and as a man.
If there’s one thing which is clear about writer-director J. C. Chandor by now, it’s that he likes to switch it up. His debut feature Margin Call was a talky, deservedly Oscar-nominated financial drama with dialogue to spare. It was followed by the Robert Redford-starring All is Lost, a survivalist drama with hardly any speech at all. For his third feature Chandor has once again opted for something completely different, fashioning a sharp and sophisticated film about the heating oil industry that may be his most satisfying work to date.
Set in a wintery 1981 New York, A Most Violent Year follows Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), a Latin-American immigrant who, along with his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), has his sights set on closing a deal that will expand his heating oil company and give him the edge over his competitors. For that to happen, Abel will have to overcome some potentially crippling external obstacles; His drivers are getting assaulted by thugs who are then stealing fuel from his trucks, the local D.A. (David Oyelowo) is mounting a case against him, and a shadowy figure looms outside his new home. Even as the screws tighten though, Abel is determined to go about his business in the right way.