September 21, 2020

Forgotten Denzel Gems

Denzel Washington, "Devil in a Blue Dress"

Quarantine has driven me (and probably a fair number of us) down numerous movie rabbit holes, so it only feels proper that I share snippets from one of my favorite internet expeditions: Denzel Washington.

He’s one of the most recognized and influential actors of our time, known primarily for movies like Remember the Titans, Training Day, Man on Fire, and – more recently – the Magnificent Seven. But what about some of his less-popular-but-still-pretty-terrific outings?

Unstoppable (2010)

The Runaway Train Movie. Sounds boring, right? Well, in a shocking turn of events – this puppy actually goes really HARD. At only 98 minutes long, it feels like 45. It’s one long anxiety-laced race against time with some truly fantastic action sequences (plus the train even growls). Denzel finds himself in a role we don’t typically see him in, playing a wily, close-to-retirement engineer who’s responsible for reining in the fiery new conductor (Chris Pine, in a fun little role right before he really hit it big) as they chase a deadly bomb on wheels. Widely remembered in the movie community as the last completed project from Tony Scott, it’s one of the more underrated action movies of the decade.

Crimson Tide (1995)

Another Tony Scott/Denzel collaboration, this time smack dab in the middle of arguably the most intense action movie decade of all time. Washington stars as a rookie XO who’s called by a long-tenured (though prickly) captain to serve aboard a submarine dubbed the USS Alabama under heightened international tension, stemming from a Russian radical overtaking a nuclear missile base. The plot probably sounds a little familiar (it’s been endlessly compared to The Hunt for Red October, despite being arguably a superior film) but it takes the concept to new heights, predicated largely on the unreal performances from DW and Gene Hackman, featuring a ruthless screaming match for the ages between the two. While not as heavy on the action itself, it instead opts to craft a tremendous amount of suspense. Also has a superb supporting cast, including names like George Dzundza, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, and Matt Craven, with loads of quotable lines. Do yourself a favor and see this one immediately if you haven’t.

Déjà Vu (2006)

Denzel and time-travel? Uhh yes, please. Another action composition from Washington and Tony Scott, with this one following an ATF agent and set in modern day New Orleans. Washington’s character is working to determine what caused a massive explosion on a ferry when Val Kilmer’s FBI agent shows up to haul him to a lab with time-traveling capabilities. It’s ultimately a game of cat and mouse between DW and Jim Caviezel as the former works to save a woman (Paula Patton) from being murdered. Concept is *almost* as wild as anything Denzel has starred in, with thrills to be found around every corner.

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), it’s a remake of John Frankenheimer’s 1962 film of the same name and stars Denzel as a Major who can’t stop having nightmares about his time in the war. He becomes increasingly wary of what he actually remembers, even going so far as to doubt the decorated history of his former squad mate (Liev Schreiber) who is now a VP candidate, all while being investigated for his past actions. It’s a taut thriller that frequently pulls the rug out from under the audience and has more outstanding supporting performances from the likes of Meryl Streep, Jon Voight, Vera Farmiga, Bruno Ganz and Jeffrey Wright. A forgotten gem in the Denzel Washington filmography.

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

This jazzy noir entry is likely the most obscure on this list, though that doesn’t take away from the fantastic story and performance from Washington. His recently unemployed protagonist receives a mysterious request to find a girl in exchange for a handsome amount of money, and he soon discovers there’s far more to this caper than he first realizes. Has some similarities to LA Confidential but has the better lead in DW and a formidable supporting cast, with Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals, and Don Cheadle all filling key roles. Overall, a stylish and intriguing little excursion that’s criminally underseen.

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Jake Ohlde 42 Articles
Staff Writer

Hails from a minuscule town of fewer than 100 people in north central Kansas. 3rd generation Kansas State alum with a distilling science major. Fervent Wildcats, Royals, Thunder and Stars supporter. Harbors an unabashed love for blink-182 and pineapple pizza. Here for the Family Feud conspiracy theories.

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