Tag Archives: David Oyelowo

Modern Oscarbait: The Butler

In Lee Daniels’ The Butler, there’s a shot of a man walking across a bog, depicted from the perspective of a silent observer looking down into the water and seeing naught but a reflection of a shadow barely present in the water, threatening to disappear at any moment. Beautiful and expressionist-tinged, it potently captures, better than any word ever could, the reality of race in America – African-Americans torn down to whispers of human flesh almost unobservant to the white eye, seen only through the prism of mirrors and reflections when you’re really looking at something else, glimpsed only in fleeting, peripheral moments by powerful forces who don’t want to acknowledge the presence of race. Continue reading

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Review: Selma

Ahem. “Faced with the overwhelming stubborn mule that is the American girth of racism and backward stagnancy, Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) uneasily fuses together a coalition of the willing (and unwilling) toward showing America the full extent of its wrongs and doing whatever he can to pursue a greater right”. With a story like that, one would be forgiven for assuming all the hype around Selma boils down to a work of reigned-in Oscarbait, safe and streamlined and ready and willing to fall in love with its own saccharine self. It would seem this crowd-pleasing lull is the de facto state of the corporate biopic, flying high on easy, over-written drama and hagiography, indifferently filmed, edited, composed, and photographed, and resting almost entirely on the laurels of the main actor/ actress in the lead role.

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like a “based on a true story” historical biopic and a popular lead actor/ actress to lull a film, and its director, to sleep. Released in late 2014, at one of the most pressing and pointed periods of racial tension and heated, boiling conflict in the modern era of the US, the thought of a work like Selma is exciting and invigorating. And the worry, the ever-crawling feeling that it may just be hope, is even greater. In this state of the world, if Selma was simply a work of moderate visual panache, it would be a godsend, but as we know, biopics like this, works about the “great men” of history with their great performances backing them up, are not the friends of “visual panache”. Prior to release, the fear that Selma was just another embalmed, wheezing biopic about the past, designed almost entirely to make the people of the present feel good and sufficient about themselves, couldn’t have been greater. Continue reading

Review: A Most Violent Year

JC Chandor’s third film in four years, and possibly his best, firmly establishes him as a leading voice for a new generation of gifted filmmakers taking up the history of classic cinema and creating the future out of the past. His three films, a dialogue-heavy corporate thriller, a dialogue-free survival parable knowing desperation as well as quiet agony, and now a tone poem to a city in the guise of a ’70s-styled crime thriller, all owe an equal amount to the nervy, alert grit of ’70s cinema and add on a modernist, even impressionist edge to focus more on space and abstract mood to go with the concrete grime of his films’ physicality.

Certainly, he seems heading even further in this direction, confident here (as he was in his previous film) with moving away from the crutch of dialogue that somewhat hindered his debut directorial effort. His trek is all the more exciting because he hasn’t yet developed a narrative singularity, or even a commonality of tone. His films are joined by a focus on process as a means to define character, but they do not necessarily feel like the work of one director. If he is an auteur, he rejects the defeating sense of personal sameness and stuffy inflexibility so often prone to directors who stick to one style and theme without fail. He’s an invigorating breath of fresh air, a director ready to tackle anything with verve, panache, physicality, and poetry.
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