By JOHN MULDERIG, Catholic News Service | Published January 8, 2015
NEW YORK (CNS)—Arriving on screens almost precisely 50 years after the events it portrays unfolded, director Ava DuVernay’s fact-based drama “Selma” (Paramount) compellingly recreates a crucial battle in the long struggle for African-American equality.
Adult subject matter, potentially disturbing images and intermittent lapses into vulgar language would normally suggest endorsement of DuVernay’s film for grown-ups only. Yet, when assessed in a holistic way, the movie’s historical value may nonetheless make it acceptable for mature adolescents.
The summer of 1964 saw one of the signal achievements of President Lyndon Johnson’s (Tom Wilkinson) tenure in office: the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Still, as the following year opened, the president was—at least as depicted here—anxious to concentrate on other matters, particularly the economic measures of his Great Society program.
For Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo), on the other hand, nothing was more urgent than the drafting of federal legislation that would finally secure access to the ballot box for minority voters in the South.
As a scene featuring activist Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) illustrates, although black citizens had the theoretical right to vote, local authorities had long used absurdly burdensome registration requirements to block them from exercising their suffrage. Nowhere were such underhanded stratagems more effective than in Cooper’s hometown of Selma, Alabama.
With that state’s implacably segregationist governor, George Wallace (Tim Roth), committed to resisting all reform, King agreed to lead a long protest march from Selma to Alabama’s capital city, Montgomery. It would prove to be a portentous decision.
Screenwriter Paul Webb effectively showcases the inspiring rhetoric of the time. But he also provides behind-the-scenes insights into the heated debates over tactics among King and his associates, the toll taken on them by the constant threat of violence under which they were forced to live as well as the emotional burden placed on King’s wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) by her spouse’s numerous infidelities.
Despite its apparently narrow focus, the picture presents a richly packed tableau of the era’s characters, organizations and conflicting ideologies. Thus, for younger viewers especially, it can serve as a vibrant and informative look at an epochal period whose effects are still being felt—and assessed—half a century later.
The film contains some harsh violence, an adultery theme, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, a couple of rough terms and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“The Imitation Game” (Weinstein)
Director Morten Tyldum’s fact-based profile of famed mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) who led Britain’s successful effort to break the German military’s Enigma code during World War II jumps between Turing’s boarding-school days, his behind-the-scenes service and his 1952 prosecution for “gross indecency.” Though much historical nuance is simply pared away to keep this drama afloat, screenwriter Graham Moore’s script treats its subject’s sexual orientation obliquely. Thus, grown viewers need not buy into a contemporary agenda contrary to Judeo-Christian morality in order to recognize the tragedy that resulted from the application of an unwise law. Mature themes, including homosexuality, brief coarse language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Though inspirational, this screen version of Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling account of one U.S. airman’s (Jack O’Connell) experiences during World War II emphasizes its subject’s sufferings at the expense of the remarkable attitude of forgiveness he was eventually able to adopt toward those who had abused him. A former Olympic runner-turned-bombardier, he and two crewmates (Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock) survived a crash landing at sea, only to face nearly seven weeks adrift on the open ocean. Eventually taken prisoner by the Japanese, he was singled out for mistreatment by the unbalanced commander (Miyavi) of his POW camp. In response, he drew on the same determination that had enabled him to rise to the top as an athlete to endure through a marathon of cruelty. Director Angelina Jolie vividly re-creates the brutality to which Allied captives in the Pacific Theater were all too often subjected. But she relegates her main character’s unusual, if not unique, spiritual achievement—which seems to have been inspired, at least indirectly, by his Catholic upbringing—to a written epilogue. Combat and other violence, including torturous beatings, rear male nudity in a non-sexual context, a couple of uses of profanity and of crude language, a few crass terms, a bit of mild sexual humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“The Gambler” (Paramount)
Bleak drama in which a cynical college professor (Mark Wahlberg) struggles with the consequences of his gambling addiction. As he fends off the competing claims of an underground casino operator (Alvin Ing) and a loan shark (Michael Kenneth Williams), to both of whom he owes large sums, he puts the squeeze on his wealthy mother (Jessica Lange) and woos his most promising student (Brie Larson). Director Rupert Wyatt’s remake of Karel Reisz’s 1974 film—which also features John Goodman as yet another underworld figure—veers between materialistic pessimism and naive romanticism. The fact that the egotistical, irresponsible main character has no one to blame but himself for the fix he’s in, moreover, makes it difficult to expend much sympathy on him. Occasional violence, upper female nudity in a strip club scene, a handful of profanities, pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.