Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Malcolm X (1992)

Malcolm X (1992)

I've never been big on 'biopics'; I find them interesting, but there's something about the formula of depicting a summarized life story that fails to engage me. I personally prefer biographical stories that focus on a few key events and aren't epic in terms of encompassing all major aspects of a person's life. But hey, that's just me. The Aviator and Ray are two recent examples of biopics that I'm not enthusiastic about despite the fact that they are both good films (actually, The Aviator is pretty terrific). Often regarded as Spike Lee's best film, Malcolm X is yet another excellent biopic that I enjoyed but can't really claim to be a fan of.

Malcolm X tells the story of black nationalist leader Malcolm X (Denzel Washington). Born Malcolm Little, the film divides the story of Malcolm X's life into three distinct segments. The first is during his youth as a burglar and drug dealer. The second is during a stint in prison, where he discovers Islam and becomes a devoted member of the Black Muslim organization the Nation of Islam. The third and longest segment deals with his life after prison, where he becomes a very public figure and the most prominent spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Each segment covers key events and people during those years in Malcolm's life.

Malcolm X is an excellent film in every respect. It's informative and draws you into the life of a fascinating individual. It's certainly brought the man to my attention - prior to watching this, my knowledge on him was sketchy at best. Now... well, it's much less sketchy; I'll be sure to remedy my lack of knowledge even further in the near future. The film is more than just a summary of Malcolm X's life, it's also a detailed study of the man - we can see how and why he changes and ends up doing what he does.

The film doesn't feel sketchy, mostly because most sequences are fleshed out quite well. This does lead to a lengthy 3.5 hour running time, but it doesn't feel overlong (lengthy running times are fairly normal for biopics, but 3.5 is longer than average). It certainly isn't lacking in depth; my outline of the film barely scratches the surface, as there's a lot that is depicted within those main three acts that defy easy summarizing. I don't think there's anything significant from Malcolm X's life that isn't at least touched upon. Lee's film is immersive and informative, and while it is certainly serious it also manages to be quite colourful, entertaining and funny. It's very atmospheric and evocative of its time and place, from the costumes and sets to the music.

The best aspect of the film in my mind is, without question, Denzel Washington. He's always good in pretty much everything, but I'd say that this is the best performance of his that I've seen, and looking over his filmography I can't imagine any other role in which he could possibly be better. As Malcolm X, he's just incredibly charismatic and full of conviction. The rest of the cast is excellent as well, particularly Angela Bassett, Delroy Lindo, and Spike Lee.

So, in short, it's an excellent film and well worth watching. It may not have changed my feelings towards biopics, and I wouldn't call myself a fan, but I can't deny that it was one of the most enjoyable biopics that I've seen.

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