Malcolm X - Blu-ray Review

'Ludicrously well detailed, Lee starts early, builds the background of Malcolm's conversion and ends with a fully realised portrait that justifies his methods.'

Newly released on Blu-ray, Malcolm X is a definitive biography on celluloid. At its core, the film is a detailed and well explored, well scripted, passion piece from director Spike Lee, into the complete background behind the character of the famous civil rights leader and his untimely and violent death at just thirty-nine years old. Insightful, incendiary - it starts with the burning of the Stars and Stripes - well played. But boy, is it a slog.

Covering Malcolm's early life as a hoodlum, his prison time in Charlestown, his conversion to Islam, his pilgrimage to Mecca, his re-emergence as a political figure and, of course, his assassination, Malcolm X runs to two-hundred and one minutes long. That's 2001: A Space Odyssey with an additional hour. For everything that Malcolm X is, and it is a lot of things, it could have done with a bladder-friendly re-edit.

Stay with it though and there's an argument that you'll be experiencing one of the best character dramas ever committed to film. Ludicrously well detailed, Lee starts early, builds the background of Malcolm's conversion and ends with a fully realised portrait that justifies his methods. Denzel Washington in the lead adapts manfully, believable villain one minute, tragically honest politician the next. The HD conversion can do little about Lee's occasionally dated dabbles with soft focus but elsewhere the film looks sparkling.

Towards the end there's definitely scope for criticising the film on its sweeping side-lining of numerous issues. 'We must protect our most valuable possessions', starts a banner at a rally, 'Our Women'. The issue of gender roles is clearly present but never does Lee find time to focus on it, writing out Theresa Randle's character from the script entirely, when she looked set up to play a major role. The ultimate ending too - oddly side-stepping into non-fiction newsreel and, even more oddly, a message from Nelson Mandela - doesn't work dramatically.

But elsewhere the film is clearly a sparklingly successful triumph of elongated dramatic form and patient character craft, punctuated by moments of individual artistic expression (listen out for Terence Blanchard's score, particularly when any marching happens), which lift the whole thing to triumphant. Washington anchors everything superbly, deservedly gaining an Oscar nomination for the trouble.




Malcolm X is out in the UK on Blu-ray now.

Look further...

'Lee gives equal time to each and every one of Malcolm X’s vastly different lives, and in so doing has crafted as complete a picture of the man as he possibly could' - 2,500 Movies Challenge

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