Training Day (2001)
Anyone who says Washington didn’t deserve the Best Actor Oscar for his role as a corrupt cop in “Training Day” is crazy. As Detective Alonzo Harris, Washington is the most evil he’s ever been. Alonzo is manipulative, violent, unpredictable and cruel. In short, he is a blast to watch! Where Washington succeeds, and where other actors may have stumbled, is in the moments when we get a glimpse into Alonzo’s weaknesses: talking to his son or being reprimanded by more powerful corrupt cops. Though the film suffers from Ethan Hawke’s pathetic attempt to keep up with him, Washington gives us one of the most memorable bad guys in all of cinema.
American Gangster (2007)
As Frank Lucas in Ridley Scott’s American crime drama opus, Washington is unsettlingly convincing as a drug kingpin who will not accept no for an answer. Whereas in “Training Day” his character was loud and boisterous, here his character speaks quietly and calmly, rarely losing his temper. But when he does, it is frightening. In a nod to Michael Mann’s “Heat,” Washington and Russell Crowe, two of the most talented actors working at that time, share only a few scenes, but their influence in each other’s lives is felt throughout the film. Watch for not only Frank Lucas the crime boss, but also Frank Lucas the family man. Washington’s subtle nuances shift so slightly as to be unnoticeable, but the impact is clearly felt on the audience.
Just For Fun:
Not all of Denzel Washington’s films have been great (many are pretty bad), but here are a couple of titles in which he elevates the material just by being in the movie.
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
Kenneth Branagh’s far-too-polished adaptation of the Bard’s wonderful comedy is fluff to say the least, but Washington is a blast to watch as the hilariously conniving mastermind behind making two sworn enemies fall in love.
In his first encounter with Russell Crowe, the roles were reversed: Washington was the cop wrongly convicted and Crowe was the computer-simulated character which crosses over to the real world and begins wreaking havoc on Los Angeles. (Yes, that’s right.)
Though it has a terrific twist ending, the film is a little heavy-handed at times. What is entertaining to watch is Washington become more and more desperate as he loses everyone close to him as he tries to defeat a demon which travels from person to person by touch.
The Book of Eli (2010)
Not a great film, but the highly stylized fight sequences and staging are wildly entertaining. Washington plays a man traveling across a post-apocalyptic America, guarding the last copy of the Bible which can save mankind.