Malcolm X (Blu-ray)
February is Black History Month (or African-American History Month) in the United States and my workplace has put up a number of informational sheets throughout the office; including information about civil rights leaders and other great African-Americans and famous speeches from the civil rights movement. I have been stopping to read them whenever I can and noticed (probably because I had this movie to watch) that all of the speeches I’ve read are words spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. Where is Malcolm X? While Dr. King’s speeches will forever be remembered for bringing so many people together, there is no more polarizing a figure at the center of the movement than one Malcolm X. MALCOLM X is his story.
The boy born Malcolm Little, who became a young hustler known as Detroit Red, who eventually became the man we all now know as Malcolm X led a certainly incredible and sometimes terrible life. When his father was killed by the Ku Klux Klan, Malcolm and his siblings were quickly split up and placed with social services. Though Malcolm got excelled at school he was put in his place by white America from a young age. In one of the films most iconic scenes, a young Malcolm sits at the back of an empty classroom, in trouble, while his white teacher lectures him about his future plans. Malcolm has apparently indicated that he wants to become a lawyer, but he is told over and over that isn’t a realistic goal and that he should instead consider becoming a carpenter or something simpler. That it isn’t natural to think he would have a chance at such a profession.
As Malcolm grows older he gets more involved in criminal activity, culminating in a string of robberies that result in his sentence of 10 years in prison. While inside Malcolm befriends a man who is converting inmates to Islam, through the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. These teachings impress upon Malcolm (and others) that he has simply lived up to what the white world wanted him to be, but that he can take back his life and be proud of who he is. Upon his release from prison Malcolm joins the movement and starts trying to help recruit others to his new faith. A natural in front of an audience, Muhammad uses Malcolm’s natural chemistry to explode the nation of Islam in America, proclaiming Malcolm his national minister, but it cannot last.
Coming in at just under 3 ½ hours, the movie obviously covers a lot of ground, but it does a decent job of keeping the pacing brisk. This is owed primarily to the overwhelming charisma of star Denzel Washington who absolutely owns the screen. Washington transforms in front of our very eyes from a young hustler to a hardened criminal to a reverent and caring man; all while reminding us just how polarizing Malcolm could be. As with most of Spike Lee’s films, MALCOLM X carries his signature blend of political ideology mixed with some great performances and cinematic flourishes, but because of the films length it sometimes feels forced.
While I really enjoy the performances, this is simultaneously Spike Lee’s greatest and most disappointing movie. There is so much story to tell that at times the message is lost and the movie feels like it is looking for a direction. It’s easy to look past it throughout much of the film because you will be so engrossed by Washington’s performance, but it cannot make up for all of the movie’s flaws and in the end we are left wanting something slightly tighter.
Video: (1080p, 1.78:1 Widescreen) The image is beautiful and really takes you throughout Malcolm’s life – from terrible to beautiful and everything in between.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The sound is very well done considering the dynamic range of sounds and dialogue that carries the film.
Commentary by director Spike Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, editor Barry Alexander Brown, and costume designer Ruth Carter (03:21:41) This is a nicely constructed commentary with lots of interesting tidbits about the making of the film. This commentary goes all out and provides an extremely detailed account of putting together this epic.
By Any Means Necessary: The Making of Malcolm X (30:28) Cast and crew come together to tell the story of putting this movie together. This was Spike Lee’s most ambitious undertaking to date, and represents the incredible power people can have when they have a vision. There are some great interviews and tidbits throughout this feature, making it well worth the 30 minutes.
Deleted Scenes (20:54) 9 scenes that were cut from the film, each presented with enthusiastic introductions by Lee. The scenes are pretty good and provide some well-paced moments. Great for any fan of Lee or the film.
The Blu-ray also includes the Theatrical Trailer, a bonus DVD featuring a 1972 documentary MALCOLM X (which is phenomenal), and a booklet with pictures, trivia, and other fun information about the movie.