“Rustin” features a captivating performance by Colman Domingo in an otherwise formulaic biopic.

The film benefits greatly from Colman Domingo’s portrayal of activist Bayard Rustin, adding depth and nuance to the character.

“Rustin” stands out from other Civil Rights dramas by focusing on the story of Bayard Rustin, the often-overlooked architect of the 1963 March on Washington. Led by a strong performance from Colman Domingo and helmed by director George C. Wolfe, the film delves into Rustin’s struggles with both organizing the march and navigating his sexuality amidst societal expectations.

Colman Domingo delivers a remarkable performance as Bayard Rustin, portraying him as unapologetic in his sexuality and deeply dedicated to the Civil Rights movement. With his outstanding portrayal in “Rustin” and other major projects on the horizon, Domingo’s potential breakthrough into wider recognition, including the Oscar race, seems increasingly likely.

Colman Domingo’s transformation into Bayard Rustin is striking, capturing details like Rustin’s missing teeth, a consequence of police brutality, and a slight lisp. Rustin emerges as a fascinating figure, known for teaching Martin Luther King Jr. about non-violent protest yet remaining more enigmatic and unpredictable than his renowned counterpart.

Colman Domingo imbues Rustin with a warmth and vibrancy that evokes immense empathy. His portrayal is characterized by heaps of charm and friendliness, illustrating how Rustin managed to rally so many to his cause despite constant rumors about his personal life. Domingo’s depiction of a man fighting for both his race and his sexuality feels deeply personal, emphasizing Rustin’s unwavering commitment to the principle of “justice for all.”

The film features a stacked ensemble cast, with notable performances from Audra McDonald as Ella Baker, Adrienne Warren as Claudia Taylor, and Glynn Turman as A. Philip Randolph. However, Colman Domingo truly shines as the main event, delivering a mesmerizing portrayal of Bayard Rustin. On the other hand, Aml Ameen’s portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. is forgettable among the numerous cinematic depictions of the civil rights leader. Jeffrey Wright’s portrayal of villainous congressman Adam Clayton Powell borders on hammy, and Chris Rock’s casting as NAACP leader Roy Wilkins is a significant misstep. Despite Rock’s earnest attempt at a serious role, his performance feels out of place and more amusing than effective.

“Rustin” bravely tackles the historical omission of Bayard Rustin, shedding light on his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and the challenges he faced due to his sexuality. The film delves into Rustin’s internal struggle between self-acceptance and his commitment to advancing the movement, despite the potential repercussions of his sexual orientation. This exploration adds depth to Rustin’s character and underscores the complexity of his legacy within the broader context of civil rights history.

“Rustin” is ultimately a formulaic biopic, following a predictable trajectory and struggling to offer fresh insights into its subject’s life. Penned by Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black, the film alternates between presenting historical facts and attempting to evoke sentimental inspiration, resulting in a narrative that feels overstuffed and lacking in depth. While Bayard Rustin’s story is undoubtedly important and deserving of recognition, the film fails to break new ground or offer a nuanced exploration of his experiences. Additionally, the decision to recreate well-known moments from the March on Washington, such as Mahalia Jackson’s performance and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, feels unnecessary and detracts from the film’s impact by presenting these moments as thin imitations rather than authentic representations.

The film’s middling reception may be attributed, in part, to the involvement of the Obamas, who are known for their centrist political stance. While Barack Obama has a personal connection to Bayard Rustin’s story, having awarded him the Medal of Freedom posthumously in 2013, the film’s challenges extend beyond its political affiliations. Director George C. Wolfe’s theatrical style may not translate effectively to the screen, resulting in performances and scenes that feel overly staged, with Colman Domingo’s portrayal of Rustin being a notable exception.

Despite the long-overdue recognition of Rustin’s contributions, the film’s execution falls short, feeling dated and failing to offer a fresh perspective on Rustin’s life and legacy, paralleling the historical shortcomings of the nation itself.

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