The film needs Colman Domingo to excel for it to work, and excel he does. His performance is bristling with energy, charisma, and endless charm — you need to believe that this man was capable of incredible things despite the barriers at play, and thanks to Domingo, it’s incredibly easy to conceive that Bayard Rustin was a gifted leader. His perfectly-pitched voice is infectious, and Rustin is rarely not smiling, and the gap in his smile (thanks to a police run-in) adds a layer of allure to his character. His energy is unmistakable, his drive undeniable. Domingo has been brilliant for a long time, and it’s fantastic to see “Rustin” finally give him the leading-man credentials he so clearly deserves. He’s also brilliant in another TIFF film this year called “Sing Sing,” making 2023 the year Colman Domingo launches into the stratosphere.
I’ve seen thousands of movies in cinemas in my lifetime, but I’ve never experienced an audience quite like the one that sat down for “Rustin.” It’s common for a festival audience to break out into applause at the end of the film — especially when those involved with the film are present. Perhaps there will even be a couple of spontaneous bursts of applause in particularly crowd-pleasing moments. During “Rustin,” the applause kept coming — I counted a whopping eight huge rounds of applause throughout the film, and there were a few other smatterings of applause throughout.
“Rustin” is clearly very successful at winning over an audience, which makes it all the more baffling that it’s going straight to streaming (some cities will get “Rustin” in theatres on limited release). The communal experience of film is so special, and with movies like “Rustin,” it’s absolutely electric. While I didn’t find myself joining every applause, I admit that all of those moments, and others like them, were extremely satisfying — never once did I find the applause to be unearned. The script, penned by Dustin Lance Black and Julian Breece, knows how to punctuate important moments, which is usually through a cutting one-liner or powerful monologue, often courtesy of Rustin himself. It does wind up playing things too safe, and too conventionally, but “Rustin” still remains a valuable portrait of how an everyday person can do extraordinary things in the face of staggering adversity.
/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10