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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 11.84%
Average: 5.26%
Pretty Bad: 3.95%
Total Crap: 6.58%

3 reviews, 58 user ratings

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Malcolm X
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Spike's magnum opus; riveting filmmaking."
5 stars

Late in Spike Lee's 'Malcolm X,' the man of the title (Denzel Washington) sits in a hotel room and listens to the phone ringing. He doesn't answer it; he picks up the receiver and puts it back in its cradle, knowing that each call is another whispered death threat. Lee intercuts this with shots of Malcolm's wife Betty (Angela Bassett) at home: Frantic and terrified, she too has been getting crank calls. Throughout, the jaunty oldie "Shotgun" plays, a chilling omen of what's in store for Malcolm.

With Malcolm X, Spike Lee, after a couple of bummers (Mo' Better Blues, Jungle Fever), has rediscovered the joy of combining crackling filmmaking with solid drama. For Malcolm's life was nothing if not great drama -- a narrative of moral empowerment. What other public figure of recent history pulled himself hand over hand out of the depths of hell to become an internationally recognized leader, and then continued to redefine himself right up until his murder? Such material demands a rock-steady director, an artist prepared to illuminate all the faces of Malcolm. The Spike who made the scattershot Jungle Fever couldn't have managed Malcolm X. This is the work of the Spike who made Do the Right Thing. Lee, I'm relieved to report, is a master again.

Reworking an old script by James Baldwin and Arnold Perl, based on Malcolm's autobiography as told to the late Alex Haley, Lee shapes Malcolm's life as a portrait in perpetual change. Malcolm was a hard man for anyone to pin down; here, you see that he couldn't quite pin himself down, either. He spent his days working towards something, some way to get people of color out from under the boots of whites, and the nature of his mission kept shifting from an encompassing hatred of whites to a philosophy closer (but not identical) to that of Martin Luther King. (If people today peg Malcolm solely as a white-basher, that may be because his "white devil" rhetoric was more widely publicized than his more temperate later views, after he realized that hypocrisy existed even among Muslims.) Dramatizing the stages in Malcolm's development (zoot-suit stud, hustler, prisoner, Muslim, husband and father, leader), Lee puts across the excitement of intellectual growth, the thrill of empowerment through words, the magic of oratorical genius.

At the very least, Malcolm was a bit of sand in the machine of the white conscience. Loud and uncompromising, he was a symbol to everyone -- a great symbol for his black brothers and sisters, a worrying symbol for status-quo whites. The challenge is to find the human being inside the symbol, and Denzel Washington, like his director, has his game face on. In a stunning scene, Malcolm strides into a police station, demanding to see a Nation of Islam member who has been arrested and brutally beaten. Outside, awaiting further instructions, stand a massive and neat formation of Malcolm's followers. Out in the street, after the wounded prisoner has been taken away via ambulance, Malcolm raises his gloved finger, and hundreds of people quietly disperse. We might not buy this moment if not for Washington's subtle yet steel-hard authority.

Washington plays the younger Malcolm as something of a fool, a black man so carefully removed from his roots that he subjects himself to a painful conk to make his hair straight and "white." (Lee, in another self-deprecating performance, plays "Shorty," Malcolm's sidekick in the early days, who gives Malcolm his first conk; Lee himself appears with a conk, perhaps out of solidarity with his star.) Gradually, as Malcolm educates himself and becomes serious (yet still charismatic), Washington's performance takes on a Shakespearean elegance and heroism. And also Shakespearean tragedy: When Malcolm realizes the full extent of the forces against him -- that his violent death is no longer just a possibility but a given -- Washington's face goes dead and numb. The dazzling heat and charm are gone, leaving only exhaustion and resignation -- the human being near the end of his journey.

Malcolm had a way of fascinating some of the same people he repelled; he did it by speaking plainly and ferociously, using impeccable logic, slashing white hypocrisy with razor-precise strokes, lashing out at the "Uncle Toms" and "house niggers" he felt were a hindrance to black advancement. Wisely, Lee reproduces some of Malcolm's great speeches verbatim and lets Washington use every ounce of persuasion in his repertoire to sock Malcolm's points home. You're not just seeing an actor reading Malcolm's words; you're seeing Malcolm's spirit come through Washington, as a force that cannot be denied.

The point of Lee's engrossing, scathing epic, which begins with the nightmare blur of the Rodney King video, is that as long as racism lives, the spirit of Malcolm will -- must -- live. That's the reason for the epilogue, with the classroom kids saying "I am Malcolm X." They're not saying "I, too, will hate white people"; they're saying "I, too, will work hard and make the best of myself despite the resistance of some white people."

Malcolm himself must have wished there were no need for Malcolm X. But there was a need for him, then and now, as there is also a need for 'Malcolm X.'

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originally posted: 01/11/07 11:56:55
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User Comments

9/16/17 morris campbell great bio-pic 5 stars
11/20/11 action movie fan slow boring film denzel is good but little else 2 stars
4/26/11 Kelseeey this movie SUCKED i HATED IT. i understood the plot, but it was just dumb. 1 stars
10/22/10 Dominique This movie is GREAT! Denzel played his part. 5 stars
11/24/09 The Truth A underrated film that will probably turn out to be one of the greatest of all time. 5 stars
8/29/09 Jeff Wilder Great bip-pic that offered a full 3-dimensional portrayal of Malcolm. 5 stars
7/30/09 Che Vai inspiring to all walks of life 5 stars
7/21/09 Livv Awesome, loved it =] 5 stars
12/05/08 Flowers It was a great piece of work! 4 stars
11/24/08 killer denzel is the man 5 stars
6/14/08 mody great movie 5 stars
5/19/08 jointz Malcolm X is simply epic. Why do bigots even bother rating movies like this? 5 stars
5/29/07 Kelly if you dont think it is amazing read the book then youll get it 5 stars
3/09/07 johnnyfog Denzel gets across his magnetic style and total assurance. Great film 5 stars
1/11/07 Sepi53 Great historical film 5 stars
1/03/07 Nicole Stop the pattern of violence. Stop letting poisons take over. 5 stars
5/16/06 bmac whoa. this shit was amazing 5 stars
10/19/05 millersxing Spike's vision achieved & Malcolm's vision honored. That "floating" shot always startles me 5 stars
10/11/05 Agent Sands Malcolm was one obstinate guy, but what a life. You can also tell what scenes Mamet wrote. 4 stars
8/11/05 ES X was no Martin Luther King jr.= too bad, but ok movie 3 stars
6/27/05 DM The film's few flaws do not detract from its powerhouse acting and vivid characterizations. 5 stars
6/14/05 Weltner A 3 hour,40 minte epic of black racism.What censorship?What racism?Badly made,of course!! 1 stars
2/06/05 Uncle Phucker Get you hand out of my pocket!!! 5 stars
11/21/04 tina johnson Malcolm was a bigot of Europeans and very anti-sematic 3 stars
10/21/04 Lennea Really shows what life was like for coloured people in the 50's and 60's. Opened my eyes! 5 stars
9/30/04 Daveman Doesn't achieve all it sets out to do, but some might say that it is a fateful triumph. 4 stars
5/17/04 rey eye opening 5 stars
5/13/04 Me BANG BANG! 1 stars
4/26/04 Lord Jiggy Agit-prop: ignored Malcolm's change of heart and repudiation of hating whitey b4 he died. 2 stars
3/24/04 Margie denzel was great. it's a glimpse into a part of history most people don't know about. 4 stars
3/19/04 tarik best film ever 5 stars
3/02/04 Michael Mungin Denzel gives possibly one of the best performances in the history of film. 5 stars
1/17/04 Agent Sands A good, passionate depiction that would hate to have any fictional twists. 4 stars
6/04/03 liz hated it 1 stars
10/09/02 Kitfo a didactic epic that is stylish and entertaining as well 5 stars
9/26/02 Adam Jones Unbelievably amazing 5 stars
5/27/02 R.W. Welch Interesting study in radicalization with effective portrayal by D.W. 4 stars
4/10/02 Bob Too damn long. Could have gotton the point across with a lot shorter film 2 stars
12/14/01 PuMa Cool 5 stars
11/30/01 sparkyfish This movie gives a good point of view into the afro-american's life 5 stars
11/01/01 Jacques Dekirmenjian "Awsome" I'v seen it x in the last month and gotten friends to watch it 5 stars
9/03/01 Butterbean a well done bio about Malcom X 4 stars
9/02/01 Axe_Murderer ................... 5 stars
8/11/01 Matt Simply a riveting chronical of the life and times of one Malcolm X. 5 stars
3/23/01 Margaret Comrie It was tottal crap... 1 stars
12/19/00 Diamond Red At first I expected shameless anti-white racism, but it ended up extraordinarily powerful 5 stars
8/10/00 Bruce Spike Lee topped himself with one, truly excellent 5 stars
3/05/00 Tony Joahnsson Fuckin Great 5 stars
10/14/99 Elisa Douglas Malcolm X was a remarkable and memorable film, which changed my life. 5 stars
10/06/99 strike Great beginning and after that it went downhill.At the end i felt like i had been in church 3 stars
7/07/99 Ben Leostein Rating: *** (out of ****) Category: "Good" 4 stars
6/15/99 Dylan Inspiring. 5 stars
11/24/98 Mr.Pink Interesting movie and well-acted, but it often felt like a lecture 3 stars
11/18/98 MinxxDaShorty One word Brillient 5 stars
11/16/98 Lord Of The Dunce A good film, but too long. Informed, didn't judge, but covered too many bases. 4 stars
10/15/98 Bluntman Powerful filmmaking 5 stars
9/15/98 MikeF Common brothers, show your suport! this movie was da shiznik 5 stars
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  18-Nov-1992 (R)
  DVD: 08-Feb-2005



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