Sometimes, one biopic will do.
At an early age, Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) faced racism almost everywhere he went. His family was terrorized by local KKK members, his family was broken up, and he was always told that he would never be allowed to practice law. So basically, Malcolm X, no matter how hard Malcolm tried, he was always brought down to the color of his skin. As Malcolm grew older, and the troubles he enduced became more frequent, he started to realize that the only person who was going to look after him was him and himself alone. That’s why, when he was put into the slammer for burglary, he found a new calling in life. Around this time in his life, Malcolm began to find faith and discover a new voice that was always inside of him, just waiting desperately to come out. Finally, it did. Problem was, many people didn’t like what he had to say; rather than being like MLK and promoting peaceful protests in order to gain the respect and gratitude of the white man, Malcolm was all about fighting back and giving white man the hell that they deserved. Many adored and praised Malcolm for this stance, however, many others didn’t. Eventually, the latter would ultimately change his life forever.
He was a leader.
At three-hours-and-20-minutes, there’s a lot of ground that Spike Lee covers. Malcolm X is the kind of biopic that knows that it should be the only biopic ever made about Malcolm X, so in order to ensure that no others come out and try to tarnish said person’s legacy, it goes out of its way to focus on just about everything in Malcolm’s life, without leaving any gray areas whatsoever. In a way, you have to applaud for Lee going as far as he can possibly go.
At the same time, the movie’s pretty long.
There’s a good half-hour or more that I felt like could have been blocked-out of this movie and made it just nearly three hours. All of the early scenes concerning Delroy Lindo, as he good as he is, don’t really work in the latter-part of the flick; while it’s trying to show how Malcolm has changed and is willing to forgive those who he has wronged, it’s also, at the same time, feeling a bit unnecessary because, well, we get it. Malcolm X is a changed man and he wants to let the whole world know it.
That said, there’s a lot about Malcolm X that deserves to be seen, regardless of the small amount of filler that always seems to be around in Lee’s films. For one, it’s a powerful statement on the act of protesting. While Lee has been known to be awfully preachy with just about each and everyone of his flicks, here, he seems to genuinely sit back and just let the speeches, and film tell itself. Because Malcolm X was such a compelling presence no matter what he was doing, when you hear his famous speeches play-out here, and the sort of effect they have, it’s hard not to want to get up, scream, and shout along with him. It doesn’t matter what color, gender, or class your are – there’s something about Malcolm X that’s easy to relate to.
That general sense of telling the opposing side to, “f**k off”, is universal and it’s one of the main reasons why Malcolm X works so well. It not only gives X’s teachings more spotlight, but also likes to show us just exactly what he was fighting and yelling for; while maybe not all that much has changed, it still goes to show that somebody like him, who was way ahead of his time, wasn’t afraid of those he may piss-off or offend. While some people may say that X’s teachings were more than just pure “fighting words”, the fact remains: When Malcolm X did a speech, you sat down, listened and hung on to every word that he had to say.
There’s nothing more powerful than that.
And as Malcolm X, Denzel Washington is, in all honesty, a revelation. It’s actually no surprise to anyone, but throughout the near three-and-a-half-hours, Washington remains engaging, interesting and most of all, believable through it all. This is all the more special due to the fact that X himself, went through so many transformations over his 40 years of living that to have someone play all of these different sides and personas in an understandable manner, to where we can still believe it’s the same person, is definitely something to boast on and on about. That Al Pacino won the Oscar that year is totally beyond me, but hey, it’s the Oscars.
How am I not surprised?
Perhaps what surprised me most about Malcolm X was how Spike Lee doesn’t set out to fully lionize X, his words, or even the movement he was so desperately fighting for. While this could have been an easy praise-piece where, no matter what he did, Malcolm X was always in the right and never made a mistake, the movie shows that he did, like many other humans and civil rights activists, get stuck in some sticky situations that he couldn’t get out of. That not everyone around him is fully on-board with what he has to say or do, already shows that maybe, just maybe, X himself may have taken things a tad too far in some perspectives.
Some could make the argument that X himself needed to take that extra step, just to force the change to happen, but still, it makes you wonder. Malcolm X, above all else, is the biopic that gives us every shade to X’s character; he was a kind, warm-hearted man who loved his wife and family so much that he never wanted anything harmful to ever happen to them, but he was also a bit of a nasty, sometimes irresponsible man who let his emotions get the best of him. Was he human? Of course he was. Was her perfect? Hell no. Then again, that’s what made Malcolm X, the person, such an iconic figure to latch onto: He was a person trying so hard to see a change.
Sadly, it didn’t bode out so well and most of us are still stuck, trying to figure out what to do next.
Consensus: Though it is quite lengthy, Malcolm X is, at the same time, a necessary biopic that gives power to its figure’s voice, and also allows for Denzel Washington to give one of the best performances of his career and keep us intrigued practically the whole way through.
8.5 / 10
And yeah, a pretty solid speech-giver, too.
Photos Courtesy of: Movpins