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Washington Insiders (A Bullz-Eye Movie Feature)

June 10, 2009


Given that many of his films reflect what you might call the broad sweep of black history, a way-too-clever writer might try to compare Denzel Washington – exemplary family man, matinee idol with a conscience, two-time Academy Award winner and the first African-American to win a Best Actor Oscar – to our current president. A smarter writer, however, might compare him to other actors, perhaps including those of other ethnicities.

Washington is, among other things, an old-fashioned movie star. Trained on the stage, he confesses to being influenced by “the method,” yet his acting has none of the emotional fetishism that is so common in the post-Marlon Brando movie world. Indeed, his complete ease before the camera and his low-key joy of performance is probably most similar to Spencer Tracy. The stocky, un-pretty Tracy was nearly the physical opposite of Washington. Still, the relaxed charisma, the ability to generate a laugh or a shiver with a simple expression, and Washington’s awe-inspiring commitment and confidence mirrors the ability of the classic era great, whose only advice to young thespians was to learn their lines and avoid bumping into the furniture.

Indeed, as the meticulously handsome Washington steps into the shoes of slob par excellance Walter Matthau in director Tony Scott’s remake of “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3“, it’s an opportune time to take a look at some of the lesser-known films from the actor’s back catalog. They’re quite an assortment, sometimes messy and imperfect, but always worthy of your attention. Denzel Washington rarely makes a boring choice.



Special FtY Not Really Exclusive Bonus: Denzel Sings!!!!!

  1. Really excellent feature, Bob.

    I haven’t seen all of the films you mention, but it’s hard to argue that Denzel Washington is a phenomenon worth spending a lot of time on. I have one disagreement with you, though. I thought he was terrible in Much Ado About Nothing, though you’re quite correct that I had no trouble believing him in the role. I think the clash of styles – American and English Shakespeare – did not work. Perhaps it was not Washington’s fault, but rather Branagh’s for not setting a consistent tone.

  2. Thanks, Marilyn!

    I thought “Much Ado” was a fun piece of work marred by some weird decisions, starting with the look of the film, which was oddly garish and cheap — or maybe he just had less of a budget than he really needed to get the right visual tone. (Certainly Branagh’s “Henry V”, while perhaps no visual masterwork, was definitely more apt.)

    And then there were some odd choices — casting Keanu Reeves at all, and the way he allowed or coached Michael Keaton to do a bad variation of Beetlejuice as his character. I understand it’s the broadly comic part of the piece, but I’m sure they could of come with something better;Washington’s role might not have been a terribly imaginative interpretation of the part, but if you’re going to have someone play a standard, “hail fellow well met” kind of guy, he’s more than up to the task. I actually haven’t seen any other versions of this play that I can remember (though I think I have), so it’s hard for me to visualize another way to play it. Also, the scene were Emma Thompson rejects his romantic overture (I’m sure most of the women in the audience were asking “why?”) is very nicely played.

  3. Overall, I liked Much Ado. It was a delight and thoroughly enjoyable. I found, in general, the Americans in the cast just clashed with the rest of the cast. When you see Emma Thompson and Branagh effortlessly riposting in Shakespearean English, the disparity was all the more glaring to me.

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