When Dan first assigned me to watch “Malcolm X,” I was looking forward to it…then I realized it was 3 and a half hours. Look I understand that directors put a lot of work into these films but even the Lord of the Rings Trilogy has become harder to rewatch solely because of the length of each installment. And especially when you get up as early as I do, the more a film drags the sleepier I become.
But “Malcolm X” has an ace in the hole: Denzel Washington. Whether it’s “Training Day” or “He Got Game,” Denzel just knows how to make a movie good. And luckily he is back to his Academy Award-winning level in this movie.
The biopic has a very broad look at the life of Malcolm X with the first hour and a half focusing on before he became a Muslim. It is these times where we see him do some pretty bad things including getting involved with other shady people. It’s a life of crime that leads this brilliant man into jail.
From there he meets Baines who helps lead him to the Nation of Islam and this is what Malcolm X is more famous for which is why it’s the best part of the film. The reformed criminal vigorously spreads the message of his new religion and we see people really take to it. In an era where men like Martin Luther King, Jr. were trying to promote cooperation, Malcolm X is seen as a black supremacist.
Yet the story gains much more depth as we see how the religious heads are corrupt including Elijah Muhammad who our protagonist would have done anything for. They begin to turn their back on him before actually trying to assassinate him. It is this final hour that the film really hits its stride as even the viewer becomes nervous and paranoid as Malcolm X watches his back.
As you would expect Denzel Washington shines as the legendary activist with a slightly calmer voice than normal. Not that he doesn’t get loud at points but it really speaks to his acting ability that he maintains a voice much closer to that of Malcolm X. And his speeches throughout the film really give you an impression of what the minister was all about.
Now while I did enjoy the movie overall, “Malcolm X” does deal with pacing issues as you would expect from anything over three hours. I understand why Spike Lee wanted to show who the activist was before becoming Muslim (with some traits being surprising to me) but it just takes too long. I mean do I need to see him dancing with Shorty? The best parts are when Malcolm X is connected with the Nation of Islam so the quicker you get to that point, the better. Plus I thought his relationship with Betty became very important even though it gets off to a slow start.
With all that said, there is just something about any movie with Denzel. He simply knows how to grab your attention without overacting. And even for a film over 3 hours, the actor keeps you entranced.