From the Chicago Reader (November 1, 1992).
Spike Lee’s 1992 epic about the powerful black leader, adapted by Arnold Perl and Lee from Malcolm X’s autobiography (written with Alex Haley), benefits from a lively lead performance by the miscast Denzel Washington but doesn’t come within light years of the book, one of the greatest American autobiographies. It’s also sad to see that James Baldwin’s contributions to the original script (the late Perl was his collaborator) have been plundered with so little respect that his name was removed from the credits by his estate’s executor. The necessity of creating a pious official (i.e., middle-class) portrait squeezes out too many aspects of Malcolm’s varied experience and mercurial intelligence; even at 201 minutes, this often feels like a skim job. But if you’re too lazy to read the book, you probably should see this. With Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., Delroy Lindo, and Lee in a supporting role. (JR)