Rustin (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by George C. Wolfe, written by Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black and starring Colman Domingo, Chris Rock, Glynn Turman, Ami Ameen, Gus Halper, Johnny Ramey, CCH Pounder, Michael Potts, Audra McDonald, Jeffrey Wright, Lilli Kay, Jordan-Amanda Hall, Jakeem Powell, Ayana Workman, Grantham Coleman, Jamilah Rosemond, Jules Latimer and Maxwell Whittington-Cooper.
Colman Domingo immerses himself in the role of Bayard Rustin in Geroge C. Wolfe’s character-driven, fact-based drama, Rustin. The man Domingo is playing in this film was responsible for the March on Washington in the early 1960’s coming into fruition. This is a story that one probably knows about from the history books but, possibly, would have preferred to read about it rather than see a movie about it. However, Domingo is so strong in the picture that the movie demands a viewing. Domingo may just sneak into the Best Actor race with an Oscar nomination if there’s any justice thanks to the actor’s layered and masterful performance.
The movie references Gandhi’s approach to using the concept of non-violence in protesting. However, it gets into the realities of what was going on in the time period as it opens with a disturbing image of a young woman being ridiculed and soon focuses in on the reasons Rustin had to fight tooth and nail to ensure that the March on Washington happened. There were many obstacles in Rustin’s way that could have prevented the landmark historical event from happening. Rustin’s history was altered by certain people in the public view who wanted to stand in the way of Rustin’s very personal and very important dream. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Ami Ameen) may have been best known for having his dream, but Rustin certainly seems to have had a very similar one of his own as well.
Gus Halper has one of the most pivotal roles in Rustin as an activist, Tom, who Rustin finds comfort in. Rustin carries on a romantic relationship with Tom in a time where such a connection between men was often frowned upon. Wolfe’s film excellently documents the time period and prejudices during that setting which were prevalent and ran rampant in society. Halper offers an intriguing glimpse inside one of the men who was involved with Rustin.
Rustin outlines the history of the main character’s life in a way that will keep the audience glued to the screen, even more so if you’ve seen Domingo’s past performances. Rustin is a completely different person for Domingo to play than many of his previous parts. Domingo made waves when he appeared in the 2021 indie film, Zola, as a pimp. Playing Rustin is a complete 180 degree turn from that role and shows Domingo’s range and depth as an actor. Domingo carries this new movie towards success by making the audience one hundred percent invested in the life that Rustin lived.
While the NAACP initially found Rustin’s promised March to be problematic in many respects, Rustin was persistent in making this act of peaceful protest happen. There are several actors here who stand out in the movie, namely Chris Rock in his cast-against-type turn as Roy Wilkins. Rock is believable in his confrontational part here and further demonstrates that he is also a dramatic actor of substantial quality underneath his every day comedic personality. Also noteworthy to mention is Glynn Turman as A. Philip Randolph, another key figure in the events portrayed in this movie.
Rustin’s influence over Martin Luther King, Jr. is expertly handled on screen. Ameen is perfectly cast, beautifully bringing to life the legendary man whose dream changed the world. Ameen and Domingo complement each other perfectly through very distinct characterizations that are, in a word, outstanding. The March becomes an event in the movie that is deeply moving and is well-created by Wolfe who takes the audience back to the time period and makes the viewer feel they are there in the action right by Rustin’s side.
The mistreatment of Rustin for being different is a real-life example of the abuses that occurred in everyday life back in the given time period. Rustin was also a victim of getting involved with people who had shattered his heart, including a married man (Johnny Ramey). One can truly feel Rustin’s suffering has led to more understanding in society today and opened up the doors for people to express themselves and find their way a bit more peacefully in life.
President Obama’s production company, Higher Ground, made this film and it’s only fitting as Obama awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom after his death. There’s also one more performance I’d like to single out and that’s the one of screen veteran CCH Pounder who plays Dr. Anna Hedgeman. Pounder’s performance stands out even in a film like Rustin which is loaded with memorable performances. Also, let’s not forget that Jeffrey Wright is also in fine form, as expected, playing the role of Congressman Powell.
While it’s not certain that Domingo has paid his dues in Hollywood long enough to secure an Oscar win opposite heavy-hitters like Bradley Cooper and Paul Giamatti, it’s clear that Domingo deserves a nomination for his very delicate role in the very distinct and important movie that is Rustin. Domingo shows his versatility and his ability to transform into somebody different in each and every role he plays. Rustin was a man of great complexity and Domingo makes us understand that fact through his multi-faceted performance in this very good picture.
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