Malcolm X Review

Image for Malcolm X

The conversion of Malcolm Little from a low life crim to a racial activist.


The movie that was supposed to cause such controversy in Middle America (even, if you will, to set cities a-burning) failed to do any such thing because director Spike Lee chose to tell the story of "the angriest black man in America" with such surprising restraint.

In fact, at times the film seems in danger of collapsing into the tedium of History Lecture For Beginners. That it never quite does is testament to the immensely powerful performance of Denzei Washington. The film comes in two lengthy acts. Act One is the story of Malcolm Little, jaunty wide-boy from Boston who wears flash clothes and takes white women and gallivants in dance halls and does drugs and ends up in chokey. This section, directed with flash and panache, a jazz-styled, colourful "romp" is, for want of a better term, the Entertainment.

Act Two, however, is the story of Malcolm X, the convert to the Nation of Islam who delivers harsh words to the white folk of America, a much more radical version of that nice Reverend King. This section, altogether more sombre as X casts away the gaudy togs and goes for grey hat and spectacles and dignified rage, is the Lesson.

Occasionally veering towards Made-For-TV- Biopic territory - especially in the scenes of Malcolm's visit to Egypt (don't the camels and the Pyramids look nice?) and pilgrimage to Mecca - one is kept upon one's toes by some fire of oration and the growing tension between Elijah Muhammed, leader of the Nation of Islam (Freeman Jnr., splendidly spooky), and his driven protege.

And while you know all along that Malcolm X is going to get shot to death, when it comes, it's still a shock. A pity, then, that Lee chooses to hammer home the Lesson by opening with footage of Rodney King's beating and closing with Nelson Mandela (who cannot act, alas) as a Soweto schoolmaster. Racism is a Bad Thing. Yes, I think we got that.

Lee's film suffers from message over substance and is slightly tedious as a result.