Lee's labour of love is arguably his most anonymous film to date, with fewer in-your-face stylistic flourishes or confrontational ideological statements than his earlier works. True, the scenes of young Malcolm (Washington) and his pal Shorty (Lee) at a Boston dance hall exhibit a fizzy choreographic flair; true, too, that the opening credits footage of the Rodney King beating hints at an anger none too shy of courting controversy. But mostly, while the film glides from Malcolm's early years as a hustler and petty criminal to his emergence in the Nation of Islam, it plays surprisingly safe as a solidly crafted trawl through the didactic/hagiographic conventions of the mainstream biopic. In short, it's a familiar tale of a man up against prejudice coming to see the light. If the first hour contains most of the drama, it's the later scenes that constitute the lesson: how to achieve black pride, power and dignity in the face of white oppression. Were it not for Washington's charismatic performance and the abiding fire of Malcolm's oratory, this didacticism might be tedious; but Lee's skill at playing to his strengths ensures that only the whitewashing of NOI's attitude to women, and odd scenes such as Malcolm's prison visit by an apparition of Elijah Muhammad, come over as major flaws.
Cast and crew
|Screenwriter:||Arnold Perl, Spike Lee|
Al Freeman Jr