Denzel Washington is fast becoming a veteran actor, and luckily it doesn’t look like he’s thinking of retiring. His new film The Equalizer hit the cinemas and the watch-lists of many this week. Here we salute him by looking back at his top five cinematic appearances.
5. The Great Debaters
Coming in at number five is The Great Debaters. Here Washington plays the part of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College Texas. Tolson forms the first debating team of the school who enjoy enormous success, remaining undefeated. The team eventually go on to battle Harvard, an unknown feat for a black debating team. Based on a true story this film is intertwined with gripping politics throughout, completing its claim for place number five on the list.
Another film (arguably) based on a true story is number four, Philadelphia. Washington plays homophobic lawyer Joe Miller, who is trying to prosecute Andrew Beckett’s former employers for wrongful dismissal. This is on the grounds that they fired Beckett because he had Aids, not that he was an incompetent lawyer as they claim. As the court case continues, Miller begins to battle his own problems of prejudice that are shared by the public of Philadelphia. A truly harrowing story, Washington plays the perfect counterpart to Tom Hanks’ fatally ill Beckett. Philadelphia will make you think long and hard about today’s society, the best compliment that can be paid to both Washington and Hanks’ performances.
3. Inside Man
Inside Man takes the middle spot on the list with a change in genre. Washington plays a negotiator sent to a bank robbery where he engages with the lead robber played by Clive Owen in an attempt to end to heist peacefully and safely. Yet under the surface there seems to be more going on when an important city broker gets involved, suggesting that there is more to the bank heist than a simple robbery can explain. Inside Man is a fantastic mystery thriller which will leave you thinking furiously throughout. Denzel’s unruffled performance is perfect for the fast paced action film which is an inviting, involving experience. An excellent film with an excellent cast.
One of Denzel’s earliest films was Glory, back in 1989. Set in the civil war Denzel plays Private Trip, in the first all-black volunteer company in the army. Despite not having the leading role, Washington stole the show, winning the Oscar for Best Supporting in 1990. Another film based on prejudice, it follows the company from volunteering through training and into the war. The relationships between every character make it an emotive film, flicking between bravery, courage, fear and despair easily and swiftly completing a fantastic movie.
1. Training Day
There really is no other contender for the top spot. Denzel puts in truly phenomenal performance as Lieutenant Alonzo Harris of the New York City Police department, a view shared by the academy who awarded him an Oscar for a leading role in 2001, beating Will Smith for his portrayal of Muhammad Ali for the prize, as well as Russell Crowe for Beautiful Mind. Harris runs a special unit of narcotics officers, showing new boy Jake Hoyt, played by Ethan Hawke, the dirty underside of police work. The film takes place over the course of 24 hours, with rouge Harris, using Hoyt for his own personal means. As the film continues we discover that perhaps Harris is a little more rouge than he appears. Training Day is an enthralling action film that no short write up could ever do justice.
There are plenty more films that could have gained a spot on the list such as Hurricane, Remember the Titans or Déjà vu. However these films have made the final selection purely down to Denzel Washington’s brilliant performances. Hopefully we can expect the same from The Equalizer.