A couple of reviews of the new Denzel Washington movie: David Denby in the New Yorker, Glenn Kenny for MSN.
Washington allows his body to go puffy and slack. His gaze is unfocussed, his walk loose and shambling, except when Whip does some coke, at which point Washington moves in a confident, swinging lope. Whip is a proud man, but Washington lets us see the narcissism and the self-pity behind the pride, a ready access to anger that gives Whip a moment of relief, as he tells people off, drawing deeper into guilt and futility. He gets drunk when he most needs to be sober. His messes are defiant, as if he thought that they were an accomplishment. The causes of his alcoholism are not examined, which is just as well—explanations of a condition so elemental and encompassing risk banality. As the film goes along, steadily, slowly, it puts us in the ambivalent position of admiring Denzel Washington’s bravery and candor and disliking the character he plays. We get tired of watching Whip fail, and we’re caught between dismayed pity and a longing to see him punished. Only a great actor could have pulled off this balancing act. I was reminded of Laurence Olivier’s bravura in “The Entertainer,” in which he plays an exhausted old vaudevillian. At a certain point, great actors want to show us the truth of something that may be far from their lives but that somehow they understand, intimately, all too well.