A film Spike Lee was born to make. Malcolm X celebrates the scope of a man's life. I often thought of a subtitle for it- Malcolm X: A Life in 3 Movements. It is a film about transition and transformation. From thug to prisoner to Muslim. Unfolding gracefully and over before you know it. Remind you, this is a 202 minute film here. But every minute is crucial to developing this life.
Spike and his team were firing on all cylinders here. Barry Alexander Brown's editing, Terence Blanchard's score, Ernest Dickerson's lush cinematography that captures the period detail in an authentic way. After working on five films in a row together, everything they had been working on and building up to has been realized in this film.
The style that Lee employs is as evolving as the character of Malcolm himself. As the film moves towards its third act, archival footage is edited into the film to show the perception the media gleamed from the man. Malcolm X's death, as purported from the reactions of people at the time was not as mournful as the assassination of King. Yet, he still stands as a crucial figure in black history.
Lee's gifted ability to generate empathy for his characters perfectly suits the man at the center of the picture.
Given the task of portraying such a figure, it would have to take an extraordinarily skilled actor to showcase the multiple facets of his persona. Denzel Washington has previously worked with Lee on Mo Better Blues and that acted as a warm up round for their collaboration here. Denzel has graced the screen with several great performances from Pvt. Trip in Glory to the corrupt cop Alonzo Harris in Training Day. But if I were to show a person the power of a performance from him, or any other actor for that matter, I would show them Malcolm X. It is played effortlessly.
A great scene that can be found in The Autobiography of Malcolm X is when a white college girl approaches him and is enamored with his leadership and wishes to do something that would further his cause. His response: Nothing. As the autobiography states, this was the one thing he regretted and gives us pause to consider the growth he would undergo later on in the film.
His final transformation would turn his own people against him. In going against the message of separation, he would invite his greatest fears into his thoughts, into his phone lines, and his doorstep. To stay in one's ways throughout one's lives could be construed as either stubborn or prideful. The gracefulness and open mindedness of a mind like Malcolm X to take what he believed in and . It didn't seem reactionary. It felt like watching a man evolve in his way of thinking and in his faith.
It makes one think Malcolm X may not have been finished with his transformations in life and allows to wonder if people are capable of undergoing the same change Malcolm went through. Ossie Davis asks us the questions at the end of the film "Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him?" Whether we differed from his beliefs or not, the journey that he traveled on that was his life was one of continual change.