Malcolm X (1992) Review




The biographical and long-spanning epic of one of the most prominent figures in the Civil Rights Movement.

What I can say Denzel Washington did wonderful in the role of Malcolm X. In the way he spoke, behaved, and the mannerisms he gave, truly reflected what Malcolm was. One got to understand the journey behind the man and saw where he came from. The performance gave one the impression that this was a man who wanted to do the right thing, no pun intended, by bringing forth justice for all black people in America. Even if people doubted him and called him a black nationalist or black supremacist, one saw the passion in his eyes and tone in his voice, that this was a guy who wished to get anything done, by any means.

The journey from point A to point B was definitely a grand one. It was very intriguing to see how Malcolm evolved as a person. How his thoughts and ideologies changed from one side to the next. In this case, how he started off accepting white culture as his own, to which he leaned more toward his black heritage during his time in prison. It doesn’t stop there once the film went into Malcolm’s conflicts with the Nation of Islam, his travels to Mecca, and his tragic assassination. The arc of how he went from becoming radical into something more accepting, was nice to witness.

The rest of the cast do really good in their roles. When it came to characters such as Brother Baines (Albert Halls), Elijah Muhammad (Al Freeman Jr.), Betty X (Angela Bassett), etc, they all do great.

Baines was perhaps my favorite, outside of Malcolm. The prison scenes between the two really blossomed into a relationship that would transform one of them greatly. Baines being the teacher and Malcolm being the student were executed so well. I liked the moments regarding Baines showing how the white man has infiltrated his mind and that he needed to see behind the lines. In this case, behind the words, regarding the dictionary bit.

The opening credits do good with the music and imagery being displayed. With the burning of the American flag representing the fate of America being in shambles. The Nelson Mandela cameo at the very end was a surprise but him reciting some of Malcolm X’s words was a nice way of teaching the younger generations of what to accomplish in their future.

There were good pieces of music that complemented the film. Like the track “Fruit of Islam,” “A Change is Gonna Come,” or the eulogy. Though granted, it is best if you listen to the eulogy within the film, where Ossie Davis gave the speech. A speech that encompassed the impressive impact that one man created over his life, even if it was very short-lived.

Cinematography was great at times. The one shot I really loved was when Malcolm was praying under the circle of lights above him.

With lots of things being presented, there were things that were bound to get some limelight and those that didn’t get enough.

Before the prison scene, it was executed well. But something about it seemed off. It didn’t feel like the events weren’t true. Characters like Shorty, Archie, Sophia, and Laura, felt artificial. With that, it felt like I was watching a fictionalized version of Malcolm’s early life, then once it switched to the prison and onward, it was back to reality for the most part. These scenes in the first act interplay with scenes from Malcolm’s childhood, which I wish there was more focus on instead of being touched upon briefly. My attention for the film was there, but I didn’t gravitate toward it until the moment Malcolm was sent to prison.

I believe the film itself was aware of it because the characters that do come back after Malcolm was released, were seen and quickly go off the radar. I feel like with a figure like Malcolm X, I think the film needed to be more truthful as opposed to being presented as a gangster movie in the first act.

Malcolm’s relationship with Muhammad was interesting with the father/son dynamic. But how Malcolm envisioned Muhammad in the jail cell was plain hokey and I chuckled a bit. How in the world did Malcolm know what Muhammad looked like? I would assume that Baines had a picture, but this was never fully established.

The messages and themes were very clear, though at times it was a bit excessive. In that, it did come in the way of scenes regarding the personal struggles of Malcolm and his family. There was some development, but not enough and it felt lacking. Nothing at all wrong with the messages being thrown, but it did get it way sometimes of making one care about the people outside of their political and social roles.

Director Spike Lee delivered a grandiose and a beast of a biopic. I highly recommend it for one who wants to find out more about a famous leader in the Civil Rights Movement. For someone like me who knew little about the man, the film gave me tidbits of information that surprised me. It makes me want to go out to read a book on X to see what really went down. Even with the dramatization and falsification of things presented in parts, the film succeeded highly in many aspects. A film that couldn’t be more talked about than today.

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