Blu-ray & DVD: Mo’ Better Blues (1990)
Mo’ Better Blues begins with Bleek Gilliam as a child, learning to play the trumpet at the expense of going out to play with his group of friends who are calling to him from outside the apartment where his parents enforce strict rules upon him. 140 minutes later the movie ends by closing the loop on Bleek’s story in a way that mirrors its beginning, but with a very touching twist. In-between we follow Bleek (Denzel Washington) as an adult who has now forged himself a successful career as the leader of a jazz band, The Bleek Gilliam Quartet, at a popular club, but wrestles with friendships personal, professional, and romantic.
With a cast that includes Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, John Tuturro, and Samuel L. Jackson, there’s nothing to complain about at all in the acting. Even writer/director Spike Lee turns in an excellent performance as Bleek’s friend and manager ‘Giant’.
Kudos also to Joie Lee and Cynda Williams who play Bleek’s love interests Indigo and Clarke. Indigo is a school teacher who has no time for Bleek’s ego, while Clarke is an aspiring singer whom Bleek keeps rejecting her offers of vocal help within the band, while taking full advantage of her body. Both play their parts very well, and the scene where they inevitably come face to face in the jazz club is one of my favourites in the movie as Bleek tries to diffuse the situation.
Wesley Snipes is fantastic as Shadow Henderson, a saxophone player within the band who wants much more than to be a team player with Bleek. Set on fronting his own band, he often attempts to derail shows with his overlong and intricate sax solos to gain the spotlight and the attention of the crowd. Needless to say, this causes friction between himself and Bleek.
Giant’s misuse of the bands money causes further friction within the band, and escalates to a scene where lives are changed forever. To say any more would be to spoil the story.
Despite my dislike of jazz, I enjoyed the character arc of Bleek and found his story an interesting one to follow, despite being played out over an overlong running time. I’d have been much happier with about 30 minutes cut out, but then that’s probably me wanting to cut out all of the jazz pieces that are scattered throughout the movie.
Mo’ Better Blues is not really for me, but if you like jazz, combined with a stellar cast, then don’t hesitate and click the buy button below.
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Review by Dave (host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Fabulous Films.