Tag Archives: Denzel Washington

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The Equalizer (2014) 2.47/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Bad – 57.9
Genre: Crime, Action
Duration: 132 mins
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Stars: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz

A numbingly formulaic action thriller the likes of which Denzel Washington can make watchable in his sleep. Which he kind of does. The movie adaptation of the Edward Woodward led television show focuses on yet another ex-spy/secret agent/assassin who gets caught up with the Russian mob while living under an assumed identity. Cue boo-hissable bad guys with scars, tattoos, and intimidating scowls, painfully earnest action sequences anchored in slow motion (so that we can see just how skilled out hero is), and straw characters reflecting just enough cheese-ball sentiment to justify our hero’s return to the dark side.

Who knows if this might’ve worked in a Jason Bourne free world but, as it stands (alongside Taken and a dozen other fallow pretenders), it’s just so much noise. So bad ass was Bourne that he has managed to kill every other action hero before they’re even written. And while the Equaliser is a pre-existing character and, originally, a much more interesting one, his 21st Century incarnation was never going to be anything but another guy with a “very specific [and very, very boring] skill set”. Comparisons with Bourne just serve to accentuate their inescapable blandness. And by the way, that skill set here includes a very lethal but unintentionally amusing use of DIY tools. That would be neither here nor there but Chloë Grace Moretz’ under-utilised presence as the hooker with the heart of gold might just confuse some into thinking that Denzel’s “DIY-Man” is part of some unauthorised Kick Ass sequel.

Of course, Denzel is nonetheless Denzel and his natural burning charisma makes this movie just about bearable. In fact, if The Equaliser does anything, it stands as testimony to the strength of that charisma because Washington isn’t even trying here. Granted there’s not much of a script to try with but this movie is a continuation of the type of cruise control/paycheck mode that has defined his career since Training Day. Fuqua was the director behind that one too but he had David Ayer’s boiling screenplay to work off. All he’s armed with here is that slow motion button and the predictability of a climactic showdown in the rain. Well under a sprinkler system – just so long as we get a close up of the hero’s face wet with victory and with the water very, very slowly dripping off it. You know, so as to emphasise the magnitude of the moment.

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Crimson Tide (1995) 4/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.1
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 116 mins
Director: Tony Scott
Stars: Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, Viggo Mortensen

A cleverly scripted submarine thriller which pits Denzel Washington’s erudite by-the-book executive officer against Gene Hackman’s old school authoritarian captain in the midst of a nuclear missile crisis. Tony Scott brings his usual big, bold, and brash style to the action whether it comes in the form of the two command officers verbally tearing into one another or in the form of their supporters amongst the crew physically doing likewise. The set design is pitch perfect and complemented wonderfully by Scott’s trademark moody lighting. Sure, some of the key moments are rammed down out throats in a manner that works contrary to his aims but, for the most part, this is Scott at his most restrained. And with a cast like this, he could afford to be. Hackman is at his snarling best while Washington provides the ideal counterweight: cool, considered, and unflappable. What sets Crimson Tide apart from the glut of similar action thrillers, however, is its perceptively drawn screenplay which works simultaneously and figuratively to reflect the moral ambiguity and outright confusion of a nuclear standoff. From the smirkingly camouflaged conversations regarding the origin of Lipizzan horses to the more overt discussions of the Hiroshima bombing, Michael Schiffer’s adaptation of Richard P. Henrick’s story is strewn with logical land-mines and moral quicksand (word has it Quentin Tarantino was even brought in by his ardent fan Tony Scott to zest it up in places). So much so that by the time the credits roll, you’ll be reprimanding yourself for not giving Scott enough credit to begin with.

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Pelican-Brief

The Pelican Brief (1993) 3.09/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 66.7
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 141 mins
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Stars: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard

Alan J. Pakula’s adaptation of John Grisham’s novel is a somewhat ponderous tale of political intrigue concerning the assassination of two Supreme Court judges and the law student and journalist who uncover the plot. Julia Roberts plays the determined law student and Denzel Washington the hot shot journalist who compile and investigate the dangerously accurate theory of why the judges were killed while dodging bullets, car bombs, and anything else the assassins who are pursuing them can come up with.

The plot to the film has a classical edge to it in that it’s simple in essence but revolves around a number of parties. It unfolds in a way that adds colour to the story and keeps the audience guessing which is exactly what you want from a thriller. Pakula’s direction of the tenser moments is fine if a little underwhelming but his ability to build tension through pacing and framing works its usual magic in the earlier sequences. A scene introducing Stanley Tucci’s hit-man recalls some of the cloak and dagger intrigue of All the Presidents’ Men and the patient buildup of the assassinations echoes similar sequences in The Parallax View.

Moreover, what some might consider a weakness – the lack of a romantic relationship between the two central characters – is actually one of the movie’s strengths, adding, as it does, more interest and unspoken depth to their interchanges. A central platonic dynamic wasn’t decided upon for that reason, however, but  rather because Hollywood still had (had?) a problem with interracial romances back in the 90’s. Thankfully, that’s all changed…!

The problem with the movie emerges as it progresses. Roberts’ star was at its zenith around the time that this film was made and it leads to a peculiar problem. The movie seems to be caught between being a substantial thriller where plot comes first and a vehicle for its headline act. Thus, when the story needs to be pushed forward it often stands still for an unnecessarily long emotional scene in which Julia shows off her acting chops. This places a drag on the film’s momentum and affects the relevance of other characters, many of whom, are relegated to obscure cameos. Sam Shepard is more than capable in one of the more extended roles (Roberts’ law professor and secret lover) as is John Lithgow (Washington’s editor) but Tony Goldwyn (the president’s nefarious chief counsel) and particularly William Atherton (the Head of CIA) are wasted.

Though neither as popular nor respected as Roberts was at time time, Washington was himself arguably climbing rapidly towards the peak of his powers in the early-mid 90’s. Yet, he almost gets lost here. Not for a lack of talent of course but because the story seems to realign itself with Robert’s character at times when his character should be coming to the fore. Roberts, for her part, was never a bad actress and she had and continues to have huge presence. She’s quite good in the role of the frightened yet wilful young go-getter but her character’s whispering grief at key moments in the film can be a little irritating – like listening to someone in need of a good cough!

For hardened fans of intrigue and shadowy plot, The Pelican Brief will fall far short of those classics that gave its sub-genre and the film’s director its standing. Nonetheless, it remains a worthy stab at a Grisham legal thriller and there’s enough there to satisfy anyone looking for a couple of hours of engaging conspiracy drama.

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American Gangster (2007) 3/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 69.8
Genre: Crime
Duration: 157 mins
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor

First off, American Gangster is not even close to being in the same bracket as Goodfellas (as some over-zealous critics exclaimed on its release) but this movie is actually a good showing from a director that has blown hot and cold these last 30 years or so. Russell Crowe stars as a New Jersey narcotics officer, who after becoming a pariah to his peers for turning in a million dollars in drug money, is given the opportunity to set up his own squad of straight-shooting undercover operatives. The man he targets as the king-pin of the east coast drug rackets is a seemingly self-made African-American gangster Frank Lucas, who modelled his organisation on the mafia, so successfully in fact that he became the Italians’ biggest supplier. Denzel Washington plays Lucas and as usual brings all his charisma to the role while Crowe handles his role of the good cop with an assured touch and for the most part outshines Washington. The story zips in many directions (with the best sub-plot undoubtedly being that which involved Josh Brolin’s crooked New York cop) but Scott keeps it together despite the somewhat rushed ending. Steven Zallian’s script is extremely strong and gives the police investigation in particular an enjoyable level of realism. There are some great ideas incorporated into the story also that allow important junctures to be realised in both an original and swift manner (with the fur coat being the best example). American Gangster is a long film at 2 hours and there are threads that could’ve been dispensed with all together but, that said, it’s worth looking at the extended edition (what? Ridley Scott releasing an extended edition? never!) for Clarence Williams III’s decent turn as Bumpy Johnson.

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Out of Time (2003) 3.29/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 69.7
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 105 mins
Director: Carl Franklin
Stars: Denzel Washington, Sanaa Lathan, Eva Mendes

Admirable low key thriller about a police chief of a small community in the Florida Keys who finds himself conned out of evidence money and framed for the murder of the woman he was having an affair with. As the murder investigation progresses in brisk fashion, he must stay ahead of the detectives (one of whom is his estranged wife) while trying to uncover the truth. Denzel Washington brings his usual assuredness to an interesting role. His Chief Whitlock is a flawed individual who proves to be both very naive at times and very clever at others. Eva Mendes and Sanaa Lathan do well as the women in his life and John Billingsley and Dean Cain provide strong secondary support. As he did with the outstanding One False Move, director Carl Franklin deftly handles the multiple threads to the story and keeps the action ticking over at a steadily increasing pace. The result is completely engaging and will have you on the edge of your seat at numerous points throughout. As with most movies that move this quickly, there are a few logical errors here and there but nothing which stops the film from being enjoyed.

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Fallen (1998) 3.57/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Duration: 124 mins
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Stars: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland

“I can’t seem to get my mind around this.” In those words lie the standout strength of this film. Denzel Washington plays a high-flying cop John Hobbes, who has just sent a notorious serial killer named Edgar Reese (played with typical gusto by Elias Koteas) to the gas chamber. However, immediately afterwards, he and his partner (played by John Goodman) uncover a series of bizarre murders each of which leave cryptic clues that not only tie them to Reese but do so in ways that defy all natural explanations.

This is as intelligent a supernatural thriller as you could hope for and proof that the most chilling cinema comes from those films which crawl around inside your head. While most horror films treat the moment when a lead character comes to believe that supernatural forces are at play as an incidental feature of the story (“Oh so it’s a demon then”), Fallen stretches that moment out across the film and therefore explores the progression from not believing to believing in a slower and seemingly realer sense. The result is a far more mature and enthralling experience than most movies of that genre offer. Nick Kazan’s dialogue is utterly superb and more than anything else, it sets the tone and tension of the film. And when spoken by heavyweights such Washington (who is particularly good in this film), Goodman, Koteas, James Gandolfini, and Donald Sutherland, it’s given a whole other level of resonance.

If Fallen has one flaw it’s the recurring use of the demon’s perspective which if omitted could’ve allowed the film to take on an even more sinister “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” vibe. That said Fallen is its own film with its own look and sound and for the most part, it hits all the right buttons.

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Inside Man (2006) 3.95/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 72.8
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Duration: 129 mins
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie FosterWillem DafoeChristopher Plummer

Spike Lee takes an above average heist story and turns it into a slick and deliciously layered minor classic. Denzel Washington plays the hostage negotiator who is called to the scene of a bank robbery where the hostage-takers (led by Clive Owen) employ a series of clever tricks which keep the police in a constant state of confusion. Add some conspicuous interference from the Mayor’s office, the owner of the bank (Christopher Plummer), and their pit-bull representative Jodie Foster, and matters become even more complicated for Washington’s character. The plot is gripping and the dialogue is Lee’s usual brand of real-cool/cool-real but the two standout strengths of this film are the acting and its structuring. Washington revels in his role as the seemingly carefree cop, Willem Dafoe and Chiwetel Ejiofor as his deputies are great bang for your buck, Foster is pure nastiness and Owen seems in charge of everything. The story is structured slightly unorthadoxly so that as the heist is progressing, the film intermittently skips forward and gives us snippets of the hostages’ later accounts to the police. This allows Lee to send us wherever he wants in terms of our suspicions and keep surprising us as he does. Lee’s slick touch is all over this and, in general, it makes an already top story a real treat to watch.

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Training Day (2001) 4.14/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 72.4
Genre: Crime
Duration: 122 mins
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Stars: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Tom Berenger

Man-sized performances and slick direction define this excellent crime drama about a rookie cop’s one day trial with a hard core LA detective who crosses the line he’s supposed to be protecting all too often. Ethan Hawke proves yet again that he’s one of the most interesting actors around as the fresh-faced Hoyt while Denzel Washington (in a different kind of role to his more typical ‘good cop’ personas) puts in a blistering performance as the edgy Alonzo who roams the streets of LA like a king. Antoine Fuqua’s direction is both faultless and inspired as he brings a gritty, kinetic LA to the screens. David Ayer’s script gives everything an authentic feel and with Washington and Hawke as his mouthpieces, the dialogue is seriously cool. The always enjoyable Scott Glenn is one of the many decent support players but for the most part this film is all about the tense chemistry between the two leads.

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