His lead role in, and as, Malcolm X earned Washington an Oscar nomination, but this not his greatest performance and this is not a great movie – but it is an important film and deserves to be seen.
I remember watching this in a cinema as a teenager, a time when Spike Lee’s films really excited and challenged me, but felt then that this was too dry, too preachy, too hero-worshipy ... but that’s understandable when the subject matter is so I won’t condemn that. And it certainly as far from a badly made film as you could possibly get in so many respects – and with a story that has so many tales to tell, even thinning it down still leaves you with a hell of a lot to get through.
Although race and race issues were always at the heart of a Lee "joint", here it became personal and muddy and subjective and that’s where, for me, it loses a huge slice of the appeal. That is a risk that you take when you make your "dream project" and Hollywood is riddled with "dream project" films that just hang there almost ominously ... yes John Carter and Scott Pilgrim, I am looking at you, among others.
Made by a non-African American I think this would have been a different film but it absolutely right that Lee directed this regardless of the end product. He is the right guy for the job without a doubt. Surrounded by a solid cast including Bassett, Hall, Lindo plus Lee himself, Denzel shines and bears an uncanny resemblance to X in almost every way possible ... however the affair is weighed down by a thick script and sincere and reverential performances that are well-meaning and from the heart but anchor rather than steady this ship or respect.
Understandably, due to the subject matter, this has none of the humour of Do The Right Thing or Jungle Fever or School Daze but is also streets ahead in the quality stakes when compared to Girl 6 or Summer Of Sam but has all the kudos or Get On The Bus Or She’s Gotta Have It so, if you never seen this before, you need to have a mental sliding scale and base this on that. Now released in HD on Blu-ray, understandably, the film is still the same as far as content goes. That said, there is a new level or richness and audio clarity that does appeal a certain appeal to it that actually makes it worth revisiting.
Does it raise it up the ladder of Spike Lee’s best film league table for me? No, this is not a chilling out on a Friday night after a hard week at work popcorn biopic... however as eye candy this now has the clarity and impact that the rest of the film delivers and adds some sauce to this dry mental meatloaf. And clocking in at some three hours give or take... this is a meatloaf that takes a hell of a lot of chewing whichever way you cut it and however much you pour on. As I mentioned, this is an undeniably important movie and deserves to be seen – but that doesn’t have to make it ‘enjoyable’.
EXTRAS ★★★ An audio commentary with Spike Lee, director of photography Earnest Dickerson, editor Barry Alexander Brown and costume designer Ruther Carter; deleted Scenes, with introduction by Spike Lee; the featurette By Any Means Necessary: The Making of Malcolm X; the theatrical trailer.