Denzel Washington has become a legend in the film industry for his memorable and powerful performances throughout the years. With the release of Fences approaching, which is both directed by and starring Denzel Washington, let’s look back on some of his best films.
This powerful Spike Lee film back in 1992 displayed Denzel Washington’s range as an actor. This film was a combination of all the things that make both Denzel and Spike as well known as they have become. The film follows the life of Malcolm X, a controversial figure in his day for his strong beliefs in a time where African Americans were fighting for a voice. Just as all of his movies to date, this film made a powerful statement through Denzel’s acting. With every speech and monologue delivered, Denzel shakes the audience to their core with his booming and emotional voice. As far as biography films are concerned, Malcolm X remains one of the best and most thought-provoking pieces in film history.
This film surprised many who decided to give it a chance in the fall of 2010. The plot seemed almost too simple with the “villain” seeming to be a runaway train. What was so shocking for moviegoers was how gripping and exciting Denzel Washington and Chris Pine managed to make this hour and a half thrill ride. What made the movie even more exciting was the fact that it was based on a true story. Denzel played a veteran train conductor that is just about to retire and is training the next generation of conductors when the incident occurs. The two men have very deep conversations about their lives and pasts that greatly add to the drama and excitement of the story.
Typically, it doesn’t take much to make a film with an airplane malfunctioning more exciting and thrilling than it already is. In Robert Zemeckis’s 2012 film Flight, Denzel plays a cocky airline pilot who is forced to take action when his plane breaks down midflight. After a violent decent, which included the plane flying upside down, only a few of the souls onboard perish in the accident. Denzel’s character is a hero, until the investigation into the crash finds that the pilot has some substance abuse problems that may have contributed to the accident. Denzel plays a very convincing tortured man who is fighting his own feelings and his addiction issues at the worst time possible.
With more and more movies like Taken and The Transporter series coming out, the one man killing machine trope can get kind of old. However, in 2014’s The Equalizer Denzel plays a former military-like man with a shady past who is forced back into his old ways when he meets a young girl. While other films show a man doing whatever it takes to get back his daughter/wife from the bad guys, this film focuses more on the morality and preciseness of this man’s actions and how he almost enjoyed what he once did. I found myself loving the scenes when Denzel’s character would slowly explains how he is going to take down the bad guys piece by piece. This was a very smart and thrilling performance by Denzel.
In most of his films, the audience tends to see Denzel Washington play an overall good guy with good intentions and a strong heart. When an actor is as talented as this man, however, he can play a villain and be just as lovable. In the 2007 crime drama American Gangster Denzel plays opposite Russell Crowe as a ruthless and sly drug kingpin being pursued by government in the 1970’s. Both Washington and Crowe deliver stellar performances in their own ways. Denzel plays the smoothest, calmest mad man ever and has the ability to go from calm to ferocious in a moment. Sometimes, being bad can be very good!
War films have always been highly liked by audiences worldwide. There is action, drama, terror, and usually a lot of violence throughout. In 1989 Glory was released and amazed with its all-star cast and inspiring story. Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman give incredibly powerful performances as African American soldiers serving in the first all black units under the command of Matthew Broderick’s character during the Civil War. The film deals with the negative feelings and mistreatment of African Americans in the south and how soldiers become brothers no matter their skin color.
This film tackled a very controversial issue at the time it was released: AIDS. When a man played beautifully by Tom Hanks is diagnosed with the disease and is then fired by his job in a law firm because of it, it is up to a local lawyer played by Denzel Washington to help his client when no one else will. This scenario was very delicate in the 1990’s when homophobia and AIDS came hand in hand due to a lack of understanding by the general public. Both Washington and Hanks play off one another perfectly and give an emotional and eye opening performance that still gives me chills when I think back to it.
The Book of Eli
There are some movies that keep you guessing until the very last minute. The Book of Eli showed Denzel in a way that audiences were not used to seeing him, as a post-apocalyptic badass! The story and visuals to this film are so unique and breathtaking. The setting is a mix of an old western and the Mad Max series. Denzel plays a man traveling the dead earth with a book that he will do anything to protect, even fighting off numerous ferocious and insane enemies. The fight choreography and set pieces are gorgeous and the film has a very gray and decayed look to it. And oh my goodness that ending…
Man on Fire
In the same heart-pounding suspense and action that Unstoppable gave audiences, Tony Scott had a film earlier in 2004 with Denzel Washington called Man on Fire. Starring a very young Dakota Fanning, the film is the story of revenge for Denzel’s former assassin character when the young daughter of the family he is bound to protect is kidnapped. The desperation and anger he feels for those involved in the kidnapping is so strong that the audience can feel it in every word he speaks. Scott’s direction and Denzel’s amazing acting makes this movie pack a major punch for any action movie lover.
I had always heard people talk about Training Day and about how groundbreaking it was when it was released back in 2001. When I was finally able to see it, I was amazed by how raw and brutally real it felt. Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke play two very convincing cops in one of the hardest cities around. Denzel plays a notoriously “bad boy” cop who is tasked with training new recruit Ethan Hawke on his very first day on the job. What follows is a series of crazy events that put Hawke’s character through metaphorical and literal hell as he tries to fight his own moral code to keep up with his teacher and his “unusual” ways. I think that most people would agree that this is the best performance that Denzel Washington has ever given by far.