Saturday 9 December 2023

Movie Review: Rustin (2023)

Genre: Biographical Drama
Director: George C. Wolfe
Starring: Colman Domingo, Aml Ameen, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Rock
Running Time: 106 minutes

Synopsis: In 1960, openly gay black civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (Colman Domingo) is a confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King (Aml Ameen). When Rustin's sexuality is weaponized during activist in-fighting, the two men have a falling out. In 1963 Rustin conceives of a march on Washington DC to pressure the Kennedy administration into passing civil rights laws. King and Rustin resolve their differences and Rustin is appointed head of the march planning committee. He galvanizes his team to meet tight deadlines, but opponents again threaten a smear campaign to derail his progress.

What Works Well: The human-scaled story of an unsung hero is delivered at an energetic pace and in a straightforward style, with Rustin's charismatic leadership forming the centerpiece of Colman Domingo's commanding yet accessible performance. The backroom arguments and disagreements amongst leaders of the civil rights movement (including roles for Glynn Turman, Jeffrey Wright, and Chris Rock) add surprising texture, while the scenes of volunteers mobilizing resources from across the country to stage a remarkable event carry the requisite chaotic power.

What Does Not Work As Well: As a behind-the-scenes look at a behind-the-scenes organizer, the movie is decidedly more administrative than inspirational. Rustin's cluttered romantic liaisons do convey the era's multi-pronged dangers for homosexuals, but also distract from the primary quest. The crescendo of the 1963 march on Washington DC is more presumed than portrayed, as Martin Luther King's influence is relegated to the narrative background. 

Conclusion: Proficient and poised, but lacking punch.

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