He has been anti apartheid activist Steve Biko, black militant leader Malcolm X, boxer Rubin Carter and American football coach Herman Boone. His movies Out of Time, Fallen, Man on Fire, John Q have been ripped off by Bollywood as Zeher, Aks, Ek Ajnabee and Tathasthu respectively.
He has been held up as the model of physical attractiveness due to the symmetry of his facial features. Denzel Hayes Washington or more popularly known to many Hollywood fans as Denzel Washington , is one of the finest black actors, and one of the greatest actors of all time. For his sheer versatility and range, his brilliant expressions, the ability to slip into the character, Denzel’s name ranks right up there.
Denzel made his 1981 debut in Hollywood with a comic flick called Carbon Copy , where he plays the illegitimate black son of a successful white businessman. He shot into fame with the TV drama St. Elsewhere and was a part of it from 1982 to 1987. His first major movie role was that of anti apartheid campaigner Steve Biko in Richard Attenborough’s 1987 biopic Cry Freedom . As the anti apartheid activist, who strikes up a friendship with the white editor Donald Woods, and the movie focuses on their friendship. Washington was now being noticed as an emerging talent.
And the Glory
It was however the 1989 Civil War drama Glory , that would catapult Washington to fame, as it would his co black actor Morgan Freeman . One of the best movies about the US Civil War , it showcased the real life story of 54th Massachusetts Regiment , one of the few units made up entirely of black volunteers, who made a heroic attack on Fort Wagner . As an ex slave Pvt Trip, who joins the force reluctantly, and who is unable to get on with others, before he finally dies in the assault, Washington put in a great performance, and was awarded the Best Supporting Actor .
The 90’s would be the time, when Denzel Washington would slowly go up and up as one of Hollywood’s most talented stars. 1992 saw him in Meera Nair’s Mississippi Masala as a black who falls in love with an Asian immigrant. Malcom X, the 1992 biopic about the militant Black leader, who later converted into Islam, and was assassinated, would however be Denzel’s tour de force. So brilliant is his performance, that you forget Washington and see Malcolm X after some time. This movie also showcased Denzel’s ability to get into the skin of the character.
He made a delightful comic turn as Don Pedro of Aragon in the 1993 movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing , and his other major role was opposite Julia Roberts in a rather forgettable adaptation of John Grisham’s legal thriller Pelican Brief .
And then followed another knockout performance as a homophobic lawyer Joe Miller , who has to defend his gay AIDS-affected client , Andrew Beckett( Tom Hanks) in the courtroom drama Philadelphia. Fantastic supporting act from Washington, first as a person who hates Gays, and then the lawyer fighting for his client.
1995 saw him in a series of thrillers the submarine drama Crimson Tide, where he leads a mutiny against his captain played by Gene Hackmann . And the noirish thriller Devil In A Blue Dress , an excellent but often underrated movie, where he plays a private eye Easy Rawlins , who in the search for a missing white woman, gets implicated in a series of cases. Another top notch performance from Washington, and the same year saw him in the rather forgettable sci fi thriller Virtuosity opposite Russel Crowe .
1996 saw him in another great performance as Lt.Col Nathaniel Serling , in the Rashomon inspired war drama Courage Under Fire . Meg Ryan broke away from her usual romantic sweetheart image to play a tough as nails Army Captain, who is killed during the Gulf War. Washington plays the colonel who investigates her death, and this is where the Rashomon influence comes to the fore, as he finds different versions about her death. With his measured dialog delivery, and his subtle expressions, Washington, gives another brilliant performance out here.
1998 saw him play a cop John Hobbes who has to deal with the spirit of a killer in Fallen . Yes this was the inspiration for the movie Aks , where the Big B played Washington’s role . The same year saw him cast opposite Bruce Willis in The Siege as an FBI agent who has to prevent bombs from going off in New York, and Bruce Willis playing an army major who imposes martial law. Though the movie was inspired by the 1993 Twin Towers blast, the events show an eerie similarity with Sept 11.
Two vastly diverse movies in 1999 would showcase the talent of Denzel Washington . The Bone Collector, where he plays a cop who is totally paralyzed, and acts as a mentor to Angelina Jolie(in her pre Brangelina days) to capture a serial killer. Excellent performance here again, especially in the scenes where he guides her sitting from his bed.
And the came the Hurricane. Based on the real life story of boxer Rubin Carter, who was imprisoned for a murder charge, and whose court case became a landmark in the fight against racism, Washington was simply brilliant. You see him sitting in the prison, narrating a monologue, getting into fights, and after some time you forget the star and just see Rubin Carter . An excellent performance, which however missed out on Best Actor award, due to controversies surrounding the movie.
This decade so far has seen Washington come up with some superb performances, even if the movies have been not as good. But the Washington is the kind of actor, who can make you overlook the deficiencies in a movie. 2000 saw him playing another real life character, Herman Boone, an American football coach in Remember the Titans . More than coaching, it is Boone’s struggle to be accepted by the white townsfolk, that is really stirring, and Washington once again comes up with a top notch performance. Especially in the climax scene where he delivers that inspirational speech to his team.
2001 saw him win his second Oscar for Training Day, as Alonzo Harris , a corrupt LA cop, who has to mentor a rookie. Certainly not one of his best movies, but then the Oscars never make the right choices. 2002 saw him as John Q in movie of the same name, as a poor black father, who holds a hospital hostage, when they refuse to operate on his son. This was remade into Hindi as Tathasthu with Sunjay Dutt in lead role. 2002 also saw him make his directorial debut with Antwone Fisher In this movie he plays a psychiatrist who helps the title character come out of the trauma of his painful childhood.
2003 saw him in the rather forgettable Out of Time, and why it was remade as Zeher in Hindi god only knows. And that too with Emraan Hashmi playing the role of Washington. 2004 saw him in the action packed flick Man on Fire, which was lifted scene by scene into Bollywood as Ek Ajnabee,, with Big B doing an angry old man’s role in Bangkok( the original was set in Mexico). And now eagerly awaiting American Gangster, where Washington plays a Mafia don, and Russel Crowe the cop determined to bring him down.