The essence of Selma (12A) is distilled in its opening minutes, as the Reverend Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) confides his very modest personal ambitions to his wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo), then walks out on stage to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
The conflict between King’s private and public lives provides the internal dynamic that drives this story, which is set in 1965, shortly after President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) passed the Civil Rights Act. In theory, equal voting rights had been secured in law, but the reality in the Southern states was characterised by naked racism, violent intimidation and murder.
As King embarks on a crusade — a symbolic walk from Birmingham to the state capital of Selma — to force President Johnson to apply the law, he is confronted by a host of enemies, chief among them the racist governor, George Wallace (Tim Roth).
Selma was for the most part ignored by this year’s Oscar nominations, and it’s very hard to see why: Oyelowo is mesmerising as the surprisingly vulnerable, self-questioning King, who is nevertheless a superb strategist and orator as he conducts a non-violent protest designed to foment media-worthy drama, while Wilkinson provides very strong support as the pragmatic Johnson, a man anxious to do the right thing but hard-nosed about political realities.
Ava DuVernay’s direction is beautifully paced, giving the story the epic sweep it deserves and yet always finding time for the intimate moments that give the story its emotional heft (King’s complex relationship with his wife Coretta is particularly well handled). All told, it’s a gripping historical drama about one of the most fascinating periods in recent American history.
Patrick’s Day (15A) stars Moe Dunford as Patrick, a young schizophrenic who meets flight attendant Karen (Catherine Walker) when he gets separated from his mother Maura (Kerry Fox) while on day-release for St Patrick’s Day.
Something of a man-child, and one prone to hallucinations and self- delusion, Patrick quickly declares he has fallen in love with Karen, not realising Karen has picked this very night to commit suicide. Written and directed by Terry McMahon, Patrick’s Day has the potential to descend into a morbid, florid melodrama; in fact, it’s a hard-hitting, emotionally affecting portrayal of Patrick’s heartbreaking battle to retain a sense of his true self in a world that requires him to bend his will to their rules.
Patrick is conspired against not only by his own mind, which contrives scenarios which may not be real while also causing memory-loss, but also by his professional carers and even his own mother, who tries to protect Patrick by lying to him about the truth of his experiences.
Excellent performances from Fox and Walker provide Dunford with strong support as the hapless Patrick wanders through his dark mental labyrinth, but the film belongs to Dunford, who is superb as the irascible, tender young man who is prone to violent outbursts and black fits of despair.
There’s a dream-like quality to the story at times, as McMahon allows his camera to blur in and out of focus to give us a sense of Patrick’s distorted perspective on reality, but McMahon’s own focus never wavers, providing us with an occasionally disturbing and challenging but always engrossing account of one young man’s descent into a Kafka-esque nightmare.
Russian immigrant Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) opens Jupiter Ascending (12A) by telling us that she’s an illegal alien, but Jupiter is about to discover that she’s much more of an alien than even she imagines.
Heir to the throne of an extra-terrestrial species, Jupiter finds herself a pawn in a galaxy-spanning war waged by siblings Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth) and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), with only the genetically modified bodyguard Caine (Channing Tatum) standing between her and certain doom.
Written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski, who masterminded The Matrix trilogy, Jupiter Ascending is equal parts a homage to classic sci-fi flicks, a recreation of delightfully old-fashioned arcade game shoot-’em-ups and an allegory for untrammelled capitalism (Earth’s population has been bred for the purpose of ‘harvesting’). If that all sounds deliciously preposterous, it is — but the story itself doesn’t do the concept justice, consisting in the main of Jupiter Jones being rescued from peril time and again by the miraculously resilient Caine.
Kunis is suitably smouldering, and as subversively funny as the script will allow, as the damsel in repeated distress, but Tatum is all sorts of ridiculous as a kind of wolf-man Silver Surfer.