TFF 50 Review: ‘Rustin’ Is the Surprising, Feel-Good Film of Telluride

Ashley Menzel reviews Rustin, the biopic of gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who organized the 1963 March on Washington. Rustin stars Colman Domingo in the title role.

Rustin, directed by George C. Wolfe, tells the story of gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin (Colman Domingo) and his work orchestrating the March on Washington. While we know the March on Washington of 1963, so famous for its “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the story of Bayard Rustin’s hard work finally gets its due in Rustin. As Bayard tirelessly plans, often against other civil rights leaders’ close-mindedness, he is unapologetic in his approach and personality. As a result of his determination, the March on Washington would change the world. Through this film, we learn about Bayard as a person, not only as a civil rights leader, and how his personal life sometimes got in the way in a world that wasn’t ready for all he was.

Colman Domingo is undoubtedly the reason to see Rustin. He is the film. His performance as this incredibly inspiring figure is jaw-droppingly transformative. I found myself totally enthralled and hanging onto his every word. Domingo has such a command of this character that you forget you are watching an actor. His total transformation is a feat not easily done by most. Undoubtedly, we will see his name at the top of the list for Actor nominations this year. The supporting cast rounds out the film, giving us a richly developed world in which we see this story unfold.

The film’s plot is very linear, and the runtime is perfect. It gives you just enough time to develop the characters, bringing them to life without overstaying their welcome. The script by Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black gives us a more human approach, not focusing solely on the aspects of the March but also on the backstory of Bayard Rustin as a person. Despite the serious topics addressed in the film, there is a certain levity and energy that keeps the audience engaged. Between Domingo’s lively performance and the scoring choices, there is no choice but to love and admire this character and the world he creates.

Bayard Rustin is a pivotal figure in American history, and Colman Domingo fully embodies this eccentric man. While the film itself isn’t as strong as the performance by Domingo, he carries the film to the finish line as the biggest surprise feel-good film of the Telluride Film Festival.

Rustin opens in select theaters on November 3, 2023,
and premieres worldwide on Netflix on November 17.

Written by
Ashley Menzel is an avid film lover and lives in Los Angeles, CA. She loves foreign films and dramas and reading books that have film adaptations. Her favorite movie of all time is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. She loves Doctor Who, Supernatural, iZombie, and Grimm.

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