Malcolm X - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Malcolm X Reviews

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Super Reviewer
June 4, 2012
Now that is how you make a biopic. Spike Lee's monument to one of the most controversial figures in American history is bold, comprehensive, & unflinching.
Lee uses X's autobiography, penned by Alex Haley, as the source material. While this renders the film an easy target for critics who want a more objective look at this historical figure, I believe Lee, walking in step with the subject of the film, smartly becomes the provocateur.
Malcolm X was not an easy figure to wrap your head around. With seemingly equal capacity for both love and vitriol, a film that tried to focus on one facet of his personality, while consequently ignoring the many other ones that made this man so enigmatic, would feel dishonest. Lets face it, this film was bound to rustle some feathers, and I think it was a smart move to let the man speak for himself.
And how could you review the film without mentioning the great Denzel? How he manages to pull off such a complex character with such ease is absolutely stunning. That he lost the Oscar to Pacino is still one of the most egregious crimes the academy has ever committed.
While Lee's career may be wading in troubled water as of now, Malcolm X gives me hope that he will soon rebound.
Super Reviewer
March 19, 2009
I was expecting an interesting biographical tale, but the genuine presentation crushed the possibility of fulfilment of any such expectation. More often than not, it's unnecesarrily loud & slow. It consists more caricatures than characters. The screenplay is ridiculously painful & plain boring, excluding even the benefit of being unintentionally funny. Denzel's performance helps the least. In fact, it's considerably pathetic and fails to come to rescue to provide any relief whatsoever in this journey of catastrophes. I can't find this Spike Lee disaster any recommendable. If you haven't been a victim to it as yet, better spare yourself the miseries of this miserable Malcolm X.
Super Reviewer
½ April 5, 2010
Malcolm X is a lot of things: controversial, bold, procedural, and informative. From the audacious opening shot that reimagines and redefines the classic Patton image of the American flag, to the belabored attempt in the end to tie everything together with school childen, this film is defiant and unafraid to stand for its message. It's a spiritually enriching testament to the human capacity for change -- and surely Spike Lee's most universally appealing film. An engrossing mosaic of history, myth and sheer conjecture, this ambitious epic manages to sustain itself for 3 hours 21 minutes, and also overcomes an early frivolity of tone and Lee's intrusiveness to achieve a stature befitting its subject.

Lee, whose enormous affection for his hero suffuses his work, nevertheless resists the temptation to sanitize Malcolm as Richard Attenborough did Gandhi. The civil rights leader, as eloquently portrayed by Denzel Washington, emerges as an immensely likable human being -- a onetime black separatist who overcame his own prejudices. Still, this biopic will ruffle a few white feathers -- and probably a few black ones too; that's a given -- but Malcolm X addresses itself to all Americans, reminding us none too gently with its opening footage of the Rodney King beating that the work is never done.

Though the film covers 40 of the most turbulent years American society, it seems oddly isolated from its time and place, almost as if the characters were trapped in a snow globe. This segregation may be purposeful, even astute, on Lee's part, but it denies Malcolm his historical underpinnings. And there's a theatricality to the crowd and street scenes that give the film the look of a Broadway play.

Lee brings all manner of styles and moods to the film's four chapters -- Malcolm's troubled youth, his conversion to Islam, his ministry and his pilgrimage to Mecca. It's Washington's formidable task to pull all of them all together, to reconcile the disparate Malcolms, which he does with uncanny ease. To make sense of the internal struggle, it's essential to know the tragedies of Malcolm's childhood, as recounted here in the Lee screenplay based on Alex Haley's "The Autobiography of Malcolm X."

The result is utterly engrossing. Denzel, in what may be the finest performance of his career (this is the film to show people who doubt his versatility), imbues Malcolm X with fire, bravado, intellect, insecurity, pride, and love (both misplaced and direct) in equal measure. Lee once said that, in film school, making a film adaptation of Malcom X's life was a dream project. The pure, unfettered passion goes into every frame, and the result is one of the most fascinating and nuanced biopics ever made. A complex film about a complex man.
Matthew Roe
Super Reviewer
September 27, 2011
The best films to date from Spike Lee and one of Denzel Washington's best performances to date. And this is also one of the most snubbed films in the history of the Oscars, Washington's portrayal of Malcolm Little is far more prolific and memorable than Al Pacino's performance in Scent of A Woman. Granted I love Pacino, but Washington was the far superior. Along with him, director Spike Lee was not even recognized for this epic biopic. Great setting, period dressing, cinematography, music compilation and original score, the overall cast and acting, this is a film that is in the forefront of all filmmaking, and should be noticed as such.
Super Reviewer
July 21, 2011
Before reviewing this film, I'll say this about Spike Lee, he is one of the most painful directors that I have ever seen in the cinematic medium. On the very rare occasion, he can turn out a good film. However Spike Lee has one trick up his sleeve and it's the race card, he uses for everyone of his films to the point that you can't even take the guy seriously. With the case of Malcolm X, he is suited for the job, but really, I think maybe Denzel Washington should have directed this as well as starred in it. What truly makes this film worth watching is Denzel Washington's performance as Malcolm X. He truly delivered something incredible on screen. However I also thought that the film felt too preachy and it started to sound like a Spike Lee rant after a while. As a person who's read Alex Haley's The Autobiography Of Malcolm X, I have to say that I much preferred the book to the film. I thought there was a lot more detail, and more interesting facts that Spike seem to leave out or twist to make his own point in telling Malcolm X's story. Personally I preferred the book over the film and though I thought Denzel Washington was great, I can't shake the feeling that this is just Spike Lee playing the race card to his own advantage in telling this historical story.
Super Reviewer
½ October 13, 2007
Man. If you can make it through this one, you get a prize.
Super Reviewer
July 29, 2010
Super Reviewer
August 3, 2006
This film fits perfectly on a shelf next to other often acclaimed (and for good reasons) epic biopics such as Lawrence of Arabia and Gandhi. This film does a great job of not only showing the life and work of Malcolm X, but doing so in a way that makes it approachable for ALL viewers. This is not a "kill whitie" film, although some of that is present. It is very fair in its portrayal. Lee's direction is brilliant here, as are the performances (especially the Oscar-snubbed Denzel Washington in one of his absolute best performances). The musical score, cinematography, editing, and stylistic choices are all highlights as well. I can't think of any better way to cinematically depict the life of someone like Malcolm X other than the way he's been depicted here.
Super Reviewer
May 2, 2007
An early riveting performance from Denzel Washington.
Super Reviewer
½ March 1, 2008
Yes Yes Yes but get your hand out my pocket.
Super Reviewer
½ April 9, 2007
I'm not the biggest fan of Denzel, but he is extremely convincing in this sweeping biopic of the black activist and political icon Malcolm X by Spike Lee. The man had a remarkable and fascinating life, born into a world of prejudice and violence and later seduced by a life of crime when he goes to the big city and encounters Delroy Lindo, a black man who commands power, and more importantly, respect. This heralds the most interesting part of the film when Malcolm is imprisoned for 10 years for burglary and encounters his mentor who teaches him his salvation in the form of Islam. This leads to his rebirth as civil rights activist, only to find disenchantment and then betrayal at the hands of those he trusted most. This biopic has everything; crime, gangsters, prison drama, politics (both religious and racial) and a lesson in history. I do not know enough about the man's real life to pass judgement on the film's accuracy, but I can only assume there is a certain amount of rose-tinting in evidence; he could almost be ordained to sainthood by the film's end. But it does hold an important underlying message; sometimes one can be seduced by the man who preaches the message, causing us to lose sight of the message itself. A lesson perhaps even more pertinent today (especially for his fellow Muslims) than it was then.
Super Reviewer
½ October 19, 2007
A great tribute to an amazing man. Denzel is a one man show, and Lee's steady direction makes the story and characters all the more captivating.
Super Reviewer
September 1, 2007
Spike Lee and Denzel tackle this complicated tale. This film was amazing.
Super Reviewer
August 19, 2006
A masterpiece. The best biopic ever. Washington gives a truly phenominal and unforgettable perfromance. A great movie in every way. Spike Lee's finest achivement as a director. It truly stands the test of time. It lives up to everything it was supposed to.
Super Reviewer
July 25, 2006
A good movie for black history buffs - Denzel did well - powerful stuff. Black history, violence and some good sotry telling by Spike Lee - worth it.
Super Reviewer
½ July 27, 2011
Spike Lee directing a film about Malcolm X with Denzel Washington starring - not surprising. It's really slow to start off, often including 'too much,' but it gets better. Well, it gets better aside from the lame and almost laughable ending. Kids shouting 'I am Malcolm X'? Nelson Mandela? Seriously Spike?
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
February 18, 2012
I find it ironic that Denzel Washington is playing who is possibly the most iconic anti-integration black man in history, and next to Will Smith, he's the whitest black man in film, but hey, that only makes the film deeper and more provocative. Almost three-and-a-half hours, it better be provocative. After this, I better want to get plastic surgery to look black and then actually join the Black Panthers, which seems pretty possible, considering that by the time you finish watching this film, the universe will have already collapsed, reset and progressed to the A.D. 1960s again. I love how I'm griping about this film being so long, and it's only - no joke - the [b]"eleventh"[/b] longest film I've ever seen. Holy cow, I need some kind of a life, even if it can't be anything as extravagant as Malcolm X's life. Well, to be fair, Forrest Gump's life wasn't as eventful as Malcolm X's, partially because Gump was just some dumb guy that got caught up in some cool stuff, whereas Malcolm X was black "and" muslim, two people that were doing all kinds of crazy stuff between the '40s and '60s, so one can only imagine what you get when you cross them together. I guess you could say that if you crossed a black and a muslim, you would get "Malcolm Little in the Middle", and by extension, the inspiration for a pretty good film, which isn't to say that this film doesn't fall into one too many missteps here and there.

I'm not gonna say that Malcolm X's life is underwhelming, but I'm not quite sure that the "short" version should be 200 minutes. Well, sure enough, although most of the film is tight, when it goes loose, it falls out, and you with it, because after a while, watching a bunch of black people dancing at a night club get unengaging enough, let alone when you're actually trying to tell a story so much that it eventually loses steam. Of course, what does more to damage this film isn't the looseness, but the tightness, as well as the style. The overstylized storytelling is at its worst during the flashbacks to Little's childhood, where things feel so devoid of genuineness, due to everything feeling so tacked-on and overwhelmed with histrionic energy, especially when it comes to the unbelievably overbearing score. Still, just because that's where the overstylizing is at its most intense, that doesn't mean that overstylizing doesn't plage much of the film, because there are countless moments of "Wait what was that?" or "Wow, that just came and went", and sure, it's not like a meditative film, where overstylizing taints the film's very aura and leaves it to limp along, almost entirely devoid of substance, but there are still too many moments theatrics, and it really intensifies the impact of the final blow that keeps this film from being truly impressive: Spike Lee's underwhelming execution. The film is well-produced, runs a mammoth length and is with a story so worth telling it's unreal, and the latter fact is one known too much by Spike Lee, so much so that even with all of the forced theatrics, he only wants to "tell" the story of Malcolm X, rather than revive it, which isn't to say that this film is totally vacant of emotion, but it is to say that the story structure is too conventional and safe to the point of being messy, leaving every transition in between arcs in Little's life - from his criminal life, his conversion to Muslim and, of course, his leadership of the Black Panthers - to feel inorganic and somewhat inconsistent, because Lee is so desperate to keep Little's story as faithful as possible that he forgets to truly captivate his audience, leaving the film to run on only so much juice. However, the film is nowhere near bad, for although Spike Lee's dream project is all but ruined by his dreaming just a little too big, it's still a fascinating story of a man's entire mindset changing as he goes from being a following nobody to a leading icon, and while it stands to be executed better, it's still an experience worth having, especially considering that, as I said, it's pretty darn well-produced.

What makes the production designs so impressive is the fact that they are subtle, being elaborate enough for you to really see the time, yet pulled back enough for you to feel the time. There's no overemphasis on the '40s or '50s or '60s, let alone the transitions into all of them, yet they're reconstructed so fashionably, keeping you engaged in the time without it feeling as though it's interrupting the story, only supplementing it. The same can be said about the cinematography, which is subtle and graceful. True, early on, the overemphasis on lighting got to be a bit annoying, but on the whole, the cast of a shadow or a beam of light is played upon subtley, but noticably, and it really supplements the tone on many occasions. I must say that I absolutely dug such scenes as the prison solitary confinement sequence, which is illuminated only by what limited light is salvaged through the feeding doors, and it gives you such a perfect sense of isolation and claustrophbia that strongly reflects and symbolizes the anguish and pain that is falling upon the shoulders of Little, not just in that moment, but many others, which isn't to say that cinematographer Ernest Dickerson is the only one carrying scenes like that, because the real star of this show is, of course, Mr. Denzel Washington. Perhaps they could have done a better casting job for the sake of physcial authenticity, but when it comes to embodying such a layered soul as Mr. Malcolm, few people could do as good of a job as the great Denzel Washington, and sure enough, the atmosphere that Washington emits is powerful, whether he's portraying a hardcore criminal like Detroit Red, a searching soul like El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz or an influential leader like Malcolm X. Spike Lee's heart may be too much in the story for him to really deliver on it, but Washington is layered and riveting in his portrayal of this follower-turned-leader, and it's that portrayal, all but by itself, that makes this film consistently fascinating, compelling, borderline enthralling and genuinely worth watching, because for every occasion of momentary disconnect, it's hard to not find yourself quickly and frequently pulled back in by the subtlety, grace and transformation in Denzel Washington as he brings the iconic Malcolm X back to life.

At the end of the day... or second, or third, or how ever many days it takes you to watch this film, it's hard not to feel a touch thrown-off by moments of overstylizing and looseness, but generally a bit disappointed by Spike Lee's overly conventional, overly safe, periodically inconsistent and ultimately underwhelming storytelling, but what keeps this film an ultimately rewarding one in spite of its flaws is, of course, it's compelling subject matter that is brought to life by subtlety and grace in the production, visual style, but most of all, Denzel Washington, who's layered, transformative and enthralling portrayal of this icon helps perhaps most of all in making "Malcolm X" a frequently and genuinely fascinating and enjoyable study on the life and times of the legendary Mr. Malcolm "El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz"/"Detroit Red"/"X" Little. Jeez, how many names did he have?

3/5 - Good
Super Reviewer
January 13, 2012
It's good. No doubt about it. It would have been interesting to see the career path for Malcolm X if he had in fact survived and continued in a more conciliatory tone. The riots that followed the film were interesting to note as an example of latent issues that continue to exist at that time thirty years after X was killed.
Jason Vargo
Super Reviewer
May 11, 2011
It is the end of Malcolm X which, like so many other films, feels hideously out of place when all is said and done. With Nelson Mandela and Ossie Davis providing the epilogue and eulogy, Malcolm X goes farther than it should in creating the character. But does that necessarily destroy the movie? No. The lack of depth between Malcolm and wife Betty is a disadvantage, as is probing and explaining the wae between Malcolm and the Nation of Islam. However, it is Denzel Washington, portraying the titular figure from youth to middle age, who shines. Charismatic and stern at the same time, he is the epicenter of the film. A lesser actor would have made this a glorified History Channel film. Astute viewers of other Spike Lee films will notice some of the director's trademarks, especially in a scene near the finale (which also seems rushed, but no bother).
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