Denzel Washington Landmark
Allow me to indulge (this is what blogs are for after all) in sharing a personal achievement in finally completing my viewing of all Denzel Washington’s 51 film & TV roles to date.
Firstly I’ve excluded St. Elsewhere from this list as it’s the only running TV show he was involved in and it’s 137 episodes of 80’s hospital dramatics, which I’ve decided can wait until a later point in my life. From what I can remember my first viewing of one of his films was back in secondary school some 6+ years ago. It was an English lesson so naturally we were studying Shakespeare and part of the UK’s brilliant education system we sat down to watch Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Much ado about nothing’ star studded adaptation. In what is a rather comedic, fumbling film the casting of Denzel suits well to his character of Don Pedro, especially considering his love for theatre.
So from here I instantly wanted to watch more of his films and rather instinctively I took the widely positive views of Training Day as my next point of call. The highly quotable film meant multiple viewings were a joy, especially considering it’s rather clever plot. Thus this quickly formed an obsession as I sought out interviews, Q&A’s and just about anything to further my knowledge of the great actor. Right now I have just finished watching ‘Virtuosity’ a Sci- Fi Thriller co-starring a young Russell Crowe who plays a highly intelligent computer that rather unfortunately finds it’s way into the real world to cause havoc. It was indeed terrible. Nevertheless it made me want to write this post and give an overview of the highlights of Denzel Washington’s performances over the years, including my experiences in watching some of the more ‘challenging’ viewings.
It’s difficult to know where to start here, being rather biased I can think of many personal favourites over the years. However perhaps it would be best to start with the more widely recognised of his ‘Man on Fire’. Directed by the late Tony Scott it focuses on Joyhn Creasy a bodyguard hired to oversee the daughter of a rich and powerful couple. If you’ve ever seen this particular film or any of his work you will be aware that a constant theme is of revenge and it’s something that not many actors can hold together without becoming fake or cheesy (*cough* The Expendables *cough*). There’s often a very natural feel to his characters there is never an extravagant feel to them, though perhaps Alonzo in Training Day is an exception to this. One of the overriding feelings in Man on Fire is that we instantly feel on Creasy’s side, helped by the innocence of Dokata Fanning’s Lupita. The pairing of Scott and Washington is obvious, the auteurs ‘docu’ style filming with crash zooms and quick edits matches the New York
born actors bad ass attitude and ease on screen.
Time to uncover some of the more ‘alternative’ pieces in his collection that were made early in his career and despite being typically bad for starting out as an actor, they all have there charms. I would like to start with what I think is
his worst film appearance in what is rather awkward viewing for it’s seemingly casual racists implications. We have to venture to 1981 to uncover this piece titled ‘Carbon Copy’ in which already established actor for that time (most notably Who’s Afraid of Viginia Woolf?) George Segal plays a corporate man who’s world is turned upside down by the arrival of his black teen age son. Oh yeah I watched it all. I probably don’t need to point out where the controversial themes in this derive, it’s the 80’s and Denzel has only had bit parts up to this point. It makes for a cringe worthy experience as Segal wonders how he can lay off this damn nuisance of a son, not to mention one who’s a minor without a job! Nevertheless the performance from Denzel has it’s charms as if he knows that he is already destined to have a better career than his elder co-star. Following this he endured a few more extra appearances, a couple of TV movies before playing the far more redeeming role as the black activist Steve Biko in ‘Cry Freedom’.
The next highlight has to come in 1990 and the decision by his agent to cast him in a comedy that later cost him his job.
This film in question is ‘Heart Condition’ where the late Bob Hoskins plays a racist cop who has to undergo a heart transplant from a black lawyer that he just so happens to hate. It’s connotations are far more tasteful than Carbon Copy but as mentioned it was that poorly received that Washington later sacked his agent for getting him such a role. Personally I found some amusement in Hoskins character being hounded by ghost in the form of Denzel. Oddly this had just followed his fantastic Oscar winning performance in Glory, perhaps explaining his frustration as he was now ready to become one of the most prominent actors around. It’s also probably no coincidence that this turned out to be the only major theatrically released movie of director James D. Parriott, who found his footing later in TV.
Finally and finally I hope if you actually read this there was some enjoyment to be had and that the indulgence wasn’t too gross. It’s my believe that Denzel Washington is one of the finest actors around who no matter what he does creates an on screen presence that uplifts any film. Since his rise in fame he has used it well to help others often being an ambassador for young actors and a founding member of Nelson Mandela’s Children Fund. I for one can’t wait for more and hope his recent theatre productions don’t halter his film adventures, thus I will leave you with the trailer for his next venture ‘The Equalizer’.