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Laramie Movie Scope: Malcolm X

A rare film about spirituality

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 25, 1993 -- ``Malcolm X'' is one of those films, like ``Howard's End'' that you go to see because it is good for you. It is educational.

Sometimes going to see a movie that is good for you is like eating a food that is good for you, but that you don't like, broccoli, for instance, or like seeing ``Howard's End,'' a movie experience not greatly different than a visit to the dental hygienist to have your gums bled.

Malcolm X, I'm happy to say, is educational, but, like good food, is not hard to swallow. Easily the most ambitious film of 1992, it aims high and hits the target most of the time. It is one of the few films in recent years that talks about spirituality in a serious way and for that reason alone, is worth a look.

The only drawback to the film it that it does get preachy from time to time and it occasionally leans toward pedantry. Despite these flaws, it does tell the story of one man, the movement he joined and the changing times in which he lived in a first-rate manner. This story is very powerful and we do get more than a hint of the man behind the legend.

The rumor on this film is that Malcolm X's widow had a lot of input into it and that would explain why she comes across so very powerfully and positively in the film. It also appears director Spike Lee (``Do the Right Thing'' and ``Jungle Fever'') is guilty of a little hero-worship when it comes to Malcolm X.

In the first part of the film we see Malcolm, played by Denzell Washington, in his early zoot-suit days, hanging out with his buddy, played by Spike Lee. We see how he was discouraged in school from pursuing his goal of being a lawyer and he ends up working as a porter on a passenger train.

Slowly, Malcolm is pulled down into a life of crime, along with drug and alcohol abuse. Sent to prison for robbery, he meets a black Muslim and is converted. He kicks his chemical dependency and educates himself. The son of a preacher, he soon becomes a preacher himself, for Elijah Muhammed, who is wonderfully played by Al Freeman Jr.

We follow his meteoric rise to prominence and his eventual breakup with Elijah Muhammed, his pilgrimage to Mecca and his second great spiritual awakening near the end of his life, which led to a moderation of his anti-white views. Malcolm is portrayed as an almost saint-like true believer after his conversion in prison. A little more objectivity would have been better. Spike Lee is also a little too fond of some distracting trick shots and black-and-white segments in the film. There is also some, but not a lot of violence and profanity in the film. Overall, the camera work, editing, set design and music are top-notch. The film deserves an Academy nomination for best picture.

This is a very sincere and heartfelt film about an important American figure and while I wouldn't suggest that kids ought to skip school to see it, it is definitely worth a look if you have an extra three hours and twenty minutes to spare. The film rates an A-.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)