X to See

Malcolm X is by no means free of blunders or slovenly choices. The main title, for instance, cuts between a bold Patton-style view of the American flag and the Rodney King footage. Fair enough, maybe, but hardly subtle. Lee's never really been much for subtlety.

He then compounds the ham-fistedness by having the flag consume itself in flames, until all that's left is an X. He reuses an odd effect he tried in Jungle Fever, a pedestrian seeming to hover his way down a sidewalk. It was jarring, for me, in both films. A dance at Roseland seems a little unconvincingly well choreographed. And the closing twenty minutes or so feel slightly muddled -- the finale isn't quite as emotionally devastating as it should be, until the last moments.

Other complaints could be lodged, but like these, they're quibbles. I know, I know: Spike Lee, as a person, is a loathsome little self-promoter who uses his race as impunity to spew divisive racial attitudes and vile sexism in interviews. I've also read how he bullied and guilted his way into this project at the expense of the perfectly qualified Norman Jewison. There might have been a perverse pleasure in seeing the little creep fumble a movie that meant so much to him.

But it's no use. The film has to be reviewed, not the guy, and Malcolm X is anything but a fumble -- even with a handful of minor flaws, it's a first-rate movie.

Directed by Spike Lee, based on the book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Alex Haley; with Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Al Freeman, Jr., and Albert Hall.


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