Blu-Ray Review: Malcolm X

Filmmaker Spike Lee, actor Denzel Washington and other top talents vividly portray the life and times of Malcolm X. ?Here?s a man who rose up from the dregs of society, spent time in jail, reeducated himself and, through spiritual enlightenment, rose to the top,? Lee says. For his extraordinary work in the title role, two-time Academy Award winner* Washington was an Oscar nominee and the New York, Boston and Chicago Film Critics choice as 1992?s Best Actor.

Regardless of your thoughts on Malcolm X, the man, there is no denying the incredible filmmaking at work in Malcolm X, the film.  Director Spike Lee has taken the life story of one of the most polarizing figures in the racial movement and crafted a meticulously detailed biopic that never plays safe.  Running close to three and a half hours, Lee gives us Malcolm’s entire story, for better and worse.

Most biopics tend to give just enough details of their subjects backstory to get to the interesting part of their life and the moments that people are familiar with.  Malcolm’s life was always shifting, and every moment was significant.  This was a criminal who rose from the depths of prison to become the mouthpiece for the Nation of Islam and a figurehead for the black movement of the time.  His approach in this role was extreme, and some would say, racist.  In fact, he was so extreme, the very group he was representing ended up disassociating themselves from him.  This was a move that would eventually lead to his assassination.

With a film like this, you need to have an actor capable of incredible range.  Denzel Washington more than lives up to the task and gives one of the best performances of his career, bringing Malcolm to life in a way that goes far beyond simple impersonation.  While he does manage to capture every physical nuance of the real Malcolm X, he also conveys the intensity in everything Malcolm did.  It’s a powerful role, expertly performed.

In watching the extras on the newly released Blu-Ray from Warner Bros., it becomes even more apparent just how brilliant his performance was.  Featuring a documentary on Malcolm X, it’s impossible not to be blown away at how eerily Washington was able to embody everything the man.  It’s a truly fascinating documentary, made even more so when viewed side by side to Lee’s film.

Other extras include a commentary track featuring Lee, along with his editor, costume designer and director of photography.  There’s also the original theatrical trailer, and nine deleted scenes.  Honestly, the film is long enough as is, and these additional moments weren’t needed.  There’s also a fascinating documentary called “By Any Means Necessary,” and this really focuses on the difficulties that went into getting this film made.  It’s a fascinating look at the controversy behind the scenes.

Warner Bros. has also included a 40-page booklet which is a welcome addition to the set.  It contains an essay on the difficulties associated with the film, including the controversies of the real Malcolm X.  There are also several biographies of the various actors, and some terrific photos.  Overall, Warner Bros. did a terrific job with this set.  Love him or hate him, this film won’t change your mind, but it will provide insight into this complicated and fascinating historical figure. 

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