I’m an unabashed fan of Denzel Washington, always have been, for any number of reasons. His breakthrough role was 30 years on St. Elsewhere, he’s notched a pair of Academy Awards and if he retired right now he walks away as one of the best actors of his generation. The very top of the mountain for actors in that generation is really comprised of two guys: Denzel and Tom Hanks. Part of it is longevity, as both are entering yet another decade as guys still able to call their shot when it comes to projects because they haven’t wasted their touch it on something that didn’t deserve it.
It’s the difference between them and Al Pacino & Robert De Niro, two of the bigger stars from the decade that proceeded the Hanks/Washington rise from TV stars to film stars. Pacino & De Niro have essentially cashed out from their peak, not taking a lot of interesting projects and instead just taking paycheck films. It’s no longer special to see them in a film because we’ve seen too many variants on “the check was just too big to turn down” type of parts from both these guys. It’s the downside of taking films like Jack & Jill, the Meet the Parents franchise and others. There’s only so many times you can trade on that credibility in subpar projects before you lose it.
It’s why there are two main variants of De Niro’s acting career: Those who remember when Bobby D was the go to, awesome leading man of some of cinema’s best films … and those who know him as being a comedic tough guy in crappy Ben Stiller films. We’ll forget the second half of his career when he dies, and remember him for Goodfellas and such, but his career is fairly tainted because he’s had a multi-decade stretch of picking awful, awful projects to star or co-star in. If there was a cinema hall of fame he’s a first ballot, no nonsense inductee … but it wouldn’t be unanimous. There’s still lots of lingering badness in his career if it ended today. Gene Hackman ended it on Welcome to Mooseport but he didn’t have a stretch where all he really did was films of that note.
De Niro and Pacino both have that, these long stretches of suck, and it’s the one thing Washington doesn’t have: A stretch where everything was just “I can’t believe he took it” when you see the first trailer. At least Nicole Kidman had the dignity to not be prominently displayed in the trailer for Just Go With It.
I think it’s why people still look at Washington with the same sense that a generation looked at Steve McQueen. Washington oozes that appeal that crosses generational and color lines; the moment you see him in a film’s trailer it just feels like something special because it’s Denzel. McQueen never really had that moment where you knew he just cared about paychecks above everything, including being an artist, and Washington hasn’t either. He’s had the paycheck film but he hasn’t had that paycheck career.
The man may be pushing 60, and to the point where action films where he’s the main protagonist are probably coming to an end for him, but if he walked away after this film it wouldn’t be with a bad taste in our mouth. He’s still on that Mount Rushmore of actors from his generation (Him, Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and a 4th to be named later) without a doubt. There’s a lingering doubt about Pacino and De Niro on a lot of levels, especially for younger generations. I had a teenage cousin go “Oh, the old guy from that Ben Stiller movie” at a family function when describing De Niro.
Everyone says “I love that guy” when you mention Denzel. It’s that coolness factor that has never gone away. He’s the cool uncle you make sure to talk to at a family function and he’s never been in the tabloids like a lot of actors.
It’s the one reason why people respect Hanks and Washington a bit more than for their current work than a lot of longtime established actors. Both never really said “forget this” and scanned scripts looking for the one with the biggest check attached first. It’s why we look at Ben Kingsley and kind of chuckle occasionally, despite the fact that he’s an Oscar winner and has been knighted, because you can look at his last decade of work and realize that Guru Tugginmypudha in The Love Guru isn’t his most embarrassing role.
Denzel? Even 2 Guns and Safe House, which weren’t great films, you could make the argument that they were at least enjoyable. He’s had a comfortable existence with good drama as well as action thrillers. There’s nothing that isn’t at least enjoyable for a good afternoon viewing in the last 10 years; he’s fairly consistent in that with his name on the marquee you’re guaranteed to enjoy the proceedings.
Denzel, even with subpar material, has that presence where he manages to carry films to at least respectability. He was good, not masterful, in good but not masterful films. They were fairly perfunctory popcorn, like the remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, but you watched it and weren’t like “I hope Denzel bought a villa in Tuscany with the paycheck.”
The Equalizer looks like another one of these but to be fair … Denzel looks like he’s going to own it. And it’s why it feels like an event anytime he opens a film. He may not be a summer film season star … but buying a ticket to see Denzel doesn’t come with a sense of nostalgia like it does for Pacino or De Niro. You don’t have to qualify your fandom of Denzel, either, like you do for either of them as well. It’s not “I love De Niro when he worked with Scorsese all the time” or “Pacino’s work where he’s not screaming gets me every time.”
It’s “Denzel has never let me down with a terrible film. Yeah he’s been in a couple that weren’t great … but he at least hasn’t given up. He’s always good.”
Stuff for General George S. Pimpage, Esq
I had to sit through The Millers. Spoiler: It was awful.
Travis is at Fantastic Fest. His first review: The Tribe.
Mike Noyes had Godzilla 2000 on his mind.
Noyes also riffed on Terry Gilliam’s latest, The Zero Theorem.
And now on MMC … a little Queen and a lot of Highlander.
If you want to pimp anything email it to me with a good reason why. It helps to bribe me with stuff, just saying ….
A Movie A Week – The Challenge
This week’s DVD – High Heels and Low Lifes
I wrote about how I found this film eight years ago, and you can read that here.
What happens when you reach into the bin of films and want something familiar? This film. Thus a film I’ve written on many times is this week’s movie of the week.
Simple premise: Minnie Driver and Mary McCormack go out for a night on the town and wind up listening in on a bank robbery as it happens in London. Driver’s a nurse who supports her lazy live in boyfriend, a musical artist who records over the air conversations for his urban symphony. McCormack is a wannabe actress just coming off a job and needing work. When the police don’t take them seriously they decide to shake down the robbers themselves. Shenanigans ensue as the two wind up being one step ahead of the police as they try to shake money out of the crooks, failing and then subsequently raising the stakes each time.
The key to the film’s ability to still get a chuckle is that Driver and McCormack have great chemistry, for starters. The two work well together and it’s a shame they haven’t worked together in a film since; in a world where Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock embarrass themselves in The Heat they have genuine comic timing.
It’s wild to think this film came out in 2001 and still has that repeatable aspect in multiple viewings. I adore the film and it’s definitely worth a viewing.
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound
The Equalizer – Denzel Washington is the man who’s resurrecting the short lived ‘80s TV series.
See it – Denzel doing a variant on the Man on Fire routine? Yeah, I’m down.
The Boxtrolls – An animated 3D stopmotion film of sorts.
In the middle – The last one I saw of the genre was Paranorman, which was excellent. Stop motion is usually the sort of genre that’s always reliable in quality, too, BUT I haven’t seen all that much about this film in trailers, et al. Usually not a good sign.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .
Tags: Denzel Washington, Mary McCormack, Minnie Driver, Monday Morning Critic, The Equalizer