The most serious actor in Hollywood

By Casey Chong

Denzel Washington in a scene from "The Equalizer".

From his uncredited early performance as one of the street muggers in 1974's "Death Wish" to Oscar-winning roles in 1989's "Glory" (where he won Best Supporting Actor) and 2001's "Training Day" (where he won Best Actor), 59-year-old Denzel Washington is no doubt qualified as one of the most sought-after and versatile African-American actors still working today in Hollywood. This month, Denzel is back with his bad-ass mode as he reunites with his "Training Day" director Antoine Fuqua in the big-screen treatment of "The Equalizer".

While playing serious-minded characters has always been Denzel's forte, he also has his fair share of comedic moments as well. To celebrate his role for "The Equalizer", we have compiled the five best serious and five best comedy performances that Denzel has tackled throughout his illustrious career.

1. Lt. Commander Ron Hunter in "Crimson Tide" (1995)

(L-R) Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman in "Crimson Tide".

No submarine movies will ever go unnoticed without a mention of 1981's "Das Boot". Another one of course is "Crimson Tide", which was directed by the late Tony Scott and starred two of the greatest Hollywood actors of our generation – Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman! "Crimson Tide" is definitely one of those summer-movie blockbuster rarities that doesn't have to rely on big explosions and whatnots to make a statement, instead, who could have thought it was so much more compelling and fun watching Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman go head-to-head and throwing ranks against each other in a battle of wits inside a submarine?

2. Coach Herman Boone in "Remember The Titans" (2000)

Denzel Washington in "Remember The Titans".

Let's get one thing straight: "Remember The Titans" is nothing more than a clichéd-driven sports drama. Even though the movie dealt with sensitive issues such as racism, it's pretty much a scaled-down drama aimed squarely for commercial value. However, what makes this otherwise predictable sports drama work in its favour is its razor-sharp portrayal of Denzel Washington as Coach Herman Boone. He's an absolute engaging presence to watch, especially the way he pushes his fellow team players to stop hating each other and get along with the game.

3. Detective Alonzo Harris in "Training Day" (2001)

(L-R) Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in a scene from "Training Day".

This is the movie that finally won Denzel Washington his much-deserved Best Actor Oscar for his cocky portrayal as the corrupted narcotics cop Detective Alonzo Harris. Not only that, "Training Day" is also one of the most bad-ass roles Denzel has ever tackled in his acting career. Of course "Training Day" wouldn't have worked with its full-on gritty charm if not for the strong support from Ethan Hawke as Alonzo's cop partner, along with Antoine Fuqua's no-nonsense direction and David Ayer's compelling screenplay.

4. John Creasy in "Man On Fire" (2004)

Denzel Washington means business in a scene from "Man On Fire".

Denzel Washington goes "Death Wish" vigilante-like style in another late Tony Scott-directed picture, "Man On Fire". In one of his more popular roles as an ex-U.S. military operative John Creasy, Denzel Washington's no-nonsense portrayal is as engaging as always. He is particularly good with balancing his kind-hearted mannerism as he bonds an unlikely relationship with Dakota Fanning's character, before he goes full-blown brutal and starts to get his hands dirty. "Man On Fire" may have been too showy and exaggerated in terms of showcasing its act of violence, but there's no denying that Denzel's captivating performance made this movie an irresistible action picture hard to miss.

5. Whip Whitaker in "Flight" (2012)

Denzel Washington in one of the suspenseful moments in "Flight".

If you watched "Flight" before, you would surely agree that the first 20 minutes is among the most frighteningly believable plane crashes ever seen in a movie. "Flight" is of course, notable for Robert Zemeckis' highly-anticipated return to live-action filmmaking after spending decade exploring motion-capture animated features such as 2004's "The Polar Express". At the center of the attraction is Denzel Washington's coolly charismatic and gritty portrayal as the disgraced alcoholic pilot Whip Whitaker. He scored a Best Actor Oscar nomination for this one and even though he didn't win, it was one of his best roles he had ever tackled in recent years.

6. Napoleon Stone in "Heart Condition" (1990)

(L-R) Bob Hoskins and Denzel Washington in a scene from "Heart Condition".

Denzel Washington in a role of full-scale comedy? Believe it or not, he did it when he agreed to sign on to play – get this - a dead lawyer named Napoleon Stone who gets gunned down in a drive-by shooting. What's more, "Heart Condition" also features another (late) great actor in the form of Bob Hoskins, who plays a racist cop with a heart condition. This 1990 comedy was considered by critics as one of the worst roles Denzel had ever tackled (he even went as far as firing the agent who convinced him to make this movie in the first place), but it's also interesting for movie fans to see how Denzel played a rare comedy role for a change.

7. Don Pedro in "Much Ado About Nothing" (1993)

Denzel Washington flashes his charming smile in a scene from "Much Ado About Nothing".

Long before Kenneth Branagh was known for his surprisingly subtle Marvel effort with 2011's "Thor", he was often synonymous with a number of William Shakespeare-inspired productions. Among them of course is the 1993 romantic comedy called "Much Ado About Nothing". It's a Shakespeare comedy filled with plenty of recognisable faces including Keanu Reeves, Emma Thompson, Michael Keaton, Kate Beckinsale (in her movie debut) and of course, Denzel Washington himself as the dashing Don Pedro a.k.a. Prince of Aragon. While it's hard to see Washington's name associated with anything involving Shakespeare, he manages to play his role convincingly. This also proves how versatile Denzel can be if given the right chance to play the occasional comedic role for a change.

8. Lt. Parker Barnes in "Virtuosity" (1995)

Denzel Washington in a silly-looking blue leather getup from the scene of "Virtuosity".

If you live throughout the 1995 period, there is a huge chance you might remember it's also the year where the "techno thriller" or "cyber thriller" genre ruled Hollywood. Among them was Brett Leonard's "Virtuosity". Okay, so it's not a comedic role that Denzel portrayed here as the imprisoned Lt. Parker Barnes, but "Virtuosity" indirectly qualifies as a campy sci-fi action picture. In fact, it's hard to take this movie seriously especially the way Russell Crowe (yes, Russell Crowe) hams it up as a psychotic virtual-reality serial killer codenamed SID 6.7. Long before Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe got all serious in Ridley Scott's epic crime drama in 2007's "American Gangster", this is what you got when you paired them both in a niche genre movie filled with plenty of guilty-pleasure moments.

9. Dudley in "The Preacher's Wife" (1996)

(L-R) Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington in "The Preacher's Wife".

Denzel Washington made good use of his undeniable charm in the Penny Marshall-directed romantic comedy, "The Preacher's Wife". You don't normally associate "Denzel Washington" and "romantic comedy" in the same sentence, but he did make quite an impression playing an angel named Dudley when he was paired wonderfully with the late singing sensation, Whitney Houston.

10. Bobby in "2 Guns" (2013)

(L-R) Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg in a scene from "2 Guns".

After years of tackling serious-minded characters, it's a refreshing change of pace for Denzel Washington when he chose to lighten up in the action comedy, "2 Guns" where he plays undercover DEA agent Robert "Bobby" Trench. While the action-comedy elements of the film are the usual antics in this Baltasar Kormakur-directed movie, the real charm of the movie lies on the successful buddy chemistry between Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. For those who are tired of watching Denzel getting serious all the time, "2 Guns" can be a pleasant change of pace.

"The Equalizer" opens in cinemas nationwide on 25 September.

Cinema Online, 18 September 2014

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