Staying in on Sunday with a Denzel double feature

Sundays are a toss-up. For some it’s the day of rest. For others it’s a day to get things done. And then there is that fickle group of people who fluctuate between the two. Whether you deliberately planned to relax today, or all your friends flopped on brunch plans at the last minute, we’ve got you covered with a Denzel double feature to keep you comfortably occupied until you decide to face the world.

One of my greatest regrets as a millennial is that I wasn’t an adult when Denzel Washington was in his prime. Though the Academy Award winner is by no means in decline, he is certainly taking filmmaking pretty easy these days having firmly established himself as one of the most formidable and versatile actors of the last few decades. For this Sunday’s Denzel double feature, we have two great movies from different points in the actor’s career – fifteen years to be exact – which just goes to show how consistently awesome Denzel has been.

Malcolm X (1992)

One of the most conflicting and inspiring individuals of the American Civil Rights movement, Malcolm X’s life story is still a source of fascination and debate for Americans and the world. Born Malcolm Little in the 1920s, he was placed into foster care as a child after his father was killed and his mother was institutionalized. His life is undoubtedly famous for his activism and his involvement with the Nation of Islam. But what makes his story compelling is the number of dramatic changes his direction took and the transformation of his world views, most notably his reassessment of the role whites played in the advancement of black people.

Washington does a spectacular job portraying this divisive figure in the film based on the book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Many believe his work in Malcolm X should have won him the 1992 Oscar for Best Actor – he was simply nominated. In any case, it is lauded as one of his best performances and definitely worth a watch (or re-watch!)

NOTABLE MOMENT: The hospital scene. After a police chief witnesses Malcolm’s influence dispersing an angry crowd, he remarks, “That’s too much power for one man to have.”

American Gangster (2007)

American Gangster is based on a true story, detailing the parallel lives of two very different people: Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), a drug kingpin, and Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), the detective determined to take down his operation. Both characters, contrary to their respective roles, are seeming anomalies in their environments. Lucas is a drug kingpin who refuses to use any substances and insists on owning his own business by not being beholden to any other gang. Roberts is a detective determined to stay honest in a cop culture where corruption runs rampant and the number one rule is don’t be a rat. It’s a terrific film that lets us into the minds and lives of two interesting and complex characters played brilliantly by both Washington and Crowe.

While it’s difficult to dislike any character played by the charismatic Washington, it is hard for the audience to decide what to make of Lucas. He cares about and looks after his family and community, but the drug that makes him a multi-millionaire, Blue Magic, is effectively ruining the lives of many. He is both protector and destroyer of his community and this has been the case with many famous drug lords (see: Pablo Escobar).

NOTABLE MOMENT: When a fight breaks out during a party at Lucas’ house and his alpaca rug gets stained with blood. “Don’t rub on that. You blot that,” he angrily instructs the person cleaning the rug. “You understand? That’s alpaca. That’s $25,000 alpaca. You blot that shit. You don’t rub on it. Put the club soda on there.”


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