Malcolm X on Blu-ray
I love nearly every single thing about Spike Lee’s Joint, Malcolm X. This was my first time viewing it. I’ve never found much appealing about Denzel Washington, I feel like he plays the same character in every film. While I committed to watch all three and half hours of Malcolm X, I felt certain I would need to break it up into a few different viewings, perhaps over three days. But after what I felt was just a bit of a rocky start, I couldn’t get myself to turn it off, and I watched late into the night.
My mind has not been changed about Washington in most of his films. But his performance as the titular character was brilliant and invigorating, unrelenting. I cringed at the idea of Mr. Lee in the role of young Malcolm X’s friend and accomplice in petty crime and general mischief, but even he managed to restrain what has only recently become a practice of excess in most aspects of his work. It was pleasant to see Angela Bassett as Dr. Betty Shabazz, Malcolm’s eternal partner in the Nation of Islam. She’s gorgeous, talented, and needs better roles like this one (not that her turn as Doctor Wallace in Green Lanterns wasn’t inspiring).
Malcolm X is based heavily on The Autobiography of Malcolm X, written by Malcolm and Alex Haley. The screenplay was adapted by Lee himself, and Arnald Perl. Arnald Perl also wrote the 1972 documentary about Malcolm that is included among the Blu-ray’s special features. It’s astonishing how much they were able to put into the film, without ever making it feel crowded, or too busy. The cinematography (by Ernest Dickerson of HBO’s The Wire, and The Walking Dead) is crisp and fresh, certainly helping with the aging of the film–it’s twenty year’s old now.
The score by Terrance Blanchard is mesmerizing as always. He’s a tremendous trumpet player (one I was fortunate enough to catch at a concert last year in San Francisco). You may remember him from his other collaborations with Lee, of which there were many. Including Summer of Sam, Inside Man, Bamboozled, and my favorite in terms of pure music, 25th Hour.
Ultimately, I was a bit ashamed it had taken me this long to finally see what may perhaps be Lee’s best film. And more so that I wasn’t more than vaguely aware of the presence, let alone the importance of such an iconic character in the civil rights movement.
Warner Brothers provided BFR with a Blu-ray for this review.