Malcolm X

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This three-hour-and-twenty-one-minute movie has no reason to be that long other than by the kind of thinking that equates size with significance. Director Spike Lee himself has suggested that his abecedarian "biopic" is in the vein of a David Lean epic, but the only similarity you are apt to be able to see is on the face of your wristwatch. It is no doubt true that the compelling and eloquent central figure of it went through a remarkable transformation, but each of the three main phases laid out on screen -- small-time hoodlum, self-reformed and self-educated prison inmate, political activist (with additional phases of development within the final phase) -- emerges as inexcusably overextended. Especially the first one, considering that the basic point of it is its unremarkableness. Yet the reasons Lee might have dragged his feet around the guns and the gun molls become understandable once we enter the more dryly educational, functional, speechifying stretches ahead. And for all its marathon length, what the movie most lacks is breadth, specifically attention to the scope and progress of the civil-rights movement, more specifically awareness of where and how loud was the voice of Malcolm X in the raging debate. It's clear -- it's fine -- it's easily defensible -- it's entirely his prerogative -- that Lee has picked out Malcolm X as his candidate of choice. But, in the resulting one-man debate, it's not clear why. Denzel Washington, Delroy Lindo, Al Freeman, Jr., and Lee. (1992) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated PG-13

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