Christine Champ June 11, 2009
It’s not too difficult to drum up five praise-worthy Denzel Washington roles, especially when his award-winning film career dates as far back as 1981 — to Carbon Copy. A comedy about an African-American teenager to be adopted by his newfound Caucasian corporate-exec dad. The tagline for the movie was “Any resemblance between father and son is purely hysterical!” Oh the ’80s, racially appropriate? Maybe not. But hysterical? Fer sure!
Plucking five major flops from Washington’s resume? Not equally easy. Most of what’s at the bottom of his barrel isn’t so bad (or at least his fault). And there’s definitely room at the top for plenty more than five faves.
That disclaimer being made, here’s a top five/bottom five DW roundup.
1. Cry Freedom
Audiences may never see Denzel as transformed as in his Academy Award-nominated incarnation of iconic anti-Apartheid leader Steve Biko.
2. American Gangster
A moral Harlem heroine kingpin? Denzel pulls it off with his tender yet tough-as-bullets take on an international drug smuggler owned by no man.
As Private Trip, a runaway slave-turned-member of the first black fighting regiment in U.S. history, Washington shines. The stoic grief, pride and rage he radiated in the “whipping” scene likely had something to do with his garnering a Best Supporting Actor golden boy for the part.
4. Malcom X
An electrifying portrayal of the influential and controversial African-American Muslim leader and political activist that earned DW his first lead actor Academy Award nom in 1993.
5. Training Day
It’s no surprise to anyone who’s seen this dirty-cop drama that it landed Denzel the 2002 Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar. As a veteran narcotics detective who initiates a rookie trainee (Ethan Hawke) into his ethically disturbing tactics for cleaning up the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles, Washington is unforgettable. Also, deeply, darkly chilling and brutally unnerving. After you meet Alonzo, you’ll be forever looking over your shoulder (for Alonzo, waiting to kill you).
1. Déjà Vu
S’alright, but not as spectacular a time-travel adventure or Denzel-to-the-rescue thriller as many of his others.
2. Mississippi Masala
Can a Ugandan-Indian girl find love with an African-American boy despite her parents’ prejudice? It’s a familiar culture-crossed romance (minus the exotic back story) that too often feels contrived and melodramatic.
3. Mo’ Better Blues
Despite the film’s hauntingly soulful “Harlem Blues” soundtrack, Spike Lee’s Brooklyn blues ode to the decadence of jazz-musician hipsters is resoundingly over-stylized and shallow. Sadly so, by association, is DW’s character, the womanizing trumpeter Bleek Gilliam.
Is it really Denzel’s fault he couldn’t act his way out of this cinema-on-steroids spawn of the ’90s virtual reality craze? I think not.
5. John Q.
This Nick Cassavetes drama definitely has heart (thanks to DW) but not the movie brains it needs make an intelligent, compelling stand against the injustices of the U.S.’s profit-driven healthcare system. Instead of exploring the issue, it exploits it with simplistic and insincere filmmaking.
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