It says something of an actor who can capture the angst of Spike Lee, the vernacular of David Mamet, the humility of Lasse Hallström and the badassery of, well, anyone. But that’s Delroy Lindo. Made famous by delivering three stellar performances in Spike Lee films, Lindo has subtly been adding weight to “bigger” names for the better part of 20 years. Possessed with an undeniable charm, the ability to flex sudden terror, and a smile that can play as so many things, Lindo is one of the finest actors to have been involved in Spike Lee’s troupe. And any other troupe, for that matter.
Since Crooklyn’s release in 1994, Spike Lee has maintained that it is, and will remain, the most autobiographical film of his career. Lee’s father was a carefree jazz musician with a blasé attitude. Lee’s mother was a strict disciplinarian who kept her five children in line, and battled her husband often on his relaxed parenting methods. To bring these people to life, Lee very wisely casted Alfre Woodard (perfect as Lee’s mother’s screen persona) and Delroy Lindo as the father figure.
Lindo’s performance is best summed up during an extended argument that he and Woodard have one evening. The argument starts slow, and concerns Woody’s inability to monitor his expenses. But then it slowly, organically, horrifically grows into a screaming match of wit and stubborn confidence. It’s one of the better feats of both Lindo and Woodard’s respective careers, and that is certainly saying something.
Rodney Little, perhaps better than any other performance on this list, is a perfect summation of everything Delroy Lindo can bring to a performance. As the drug lord of a small section of Brooklyn, Rodney is the type of guy who ropes you in young, and before long, has you slinging and risking your life. He elects to hold up in one of his front business while the kids are out earning him cash money. He does this through gentle manipulation, which naturally grows to fierce determination. When Rodney asks you to do something, he isn’t asking, he’s telling in the kindest way possible. Kind though he may be, there’s no debating what will happen if you cross him. The screenshot I’ve used to highlight Lindo’s performance here is the most ferocious scene of the actor’s career. From smooth operator to hardened criminal, within a matter of seconds.
Get Shorty (1995)
I love the hell out of Get Shorty. I love its farcical tone, its relaxed attitude toward violence, John Travolta’s confident slyness – just everything. And indeed, Lindo only adds to my appreciation of the movie. Playing a suave drug dealer who’s more concerned about keeping his white carpet spotless than anything else, Lindo brings his signature effortless charm to a movie chock full of it. There’s one very minor scene in Get Shorty that I absolutely adore. It’s the first time Travolta and Lindo meet. Lindo and his partner enter Gene Hackman’s office and sit across a desk from Travolta. At one point, Travolta mockingly asks Lindo, “Okay, am I talking to you, or I am talking to him, because this is getting confusing.”
Lindo smiles bright, stares right at Travolta and says, “You can talk to me.” It’s a smile and line delivery that says everything about Bo Catlett. On one hand, he’s pissed by Travolta’s purposeful arrogance, but on the other, Lindo smiles as if to say, “Damn, I kind of like this guy.” A brief but perfect moment.
The Cider House Rules (1999)
There’s really no need to mention this, but, for the record, I loathe The Cider House Rules. Its sentimentality, its uneven acting, its general attitude – just not a film for me. A glimmer of hope? Delroy Lindo. This is a tricky argument, because I detest how this film handles acts committed by Lindo’s character, but I love the way Lindo plays it. Right now, I consider Lindo’s restrained, forgiving Arthur Rose to be a very worthy performance by a tremendous actor. With a better script, it could’ve been an Oscar worthy performance by a tremendous actor. As always, Lindo does what he can with the script, and for that, I value the actor even more. But damn, there was more to flesh out here.
Mamet speak ain’t an easy thing. There’s a cadence, a rhythm, a vibe to it that would (and should) intimidate most actors. Few players are ballsy enough to take Mamet’s words on, some succeed gloriously, others fail miserably. I’ll gladly place Lindo in the former category, as his Bobby Blane is one of my all time favorite Mamet characters. Blane doesn’t have a big Mamet moment (say, in the way Baldwin or Pacino do in Glengarry Glen Ross), but that’s hardly an issue. Instead, he turns Blane into an everyday badass who talks the talk and walks the walks to utter perfection. In the film, he plays right hand man to Gene Hackman’s Joe Moore. He knows exactly when to push his friend, when to back off, and precisely how to rattle cages in the most effective way possible.
“You know why the chicken crossed the road? Because the road crossed the chicken.”
The Best of the Best
Malcolm X (1992)
West Indian Archie
Full disclosure: I had a difficult time choosing whether Lindo’s fierce work in Clockers was better than his slice of bravado in Malcolm X. Both are flawless performances, for very different reasons. And while I uphold the notion that Clockers gives Lindo the opportunity to tap into every one of his skills, there’s something about West Indian Archie that has never escaped my mind. As a sly Harlem gangster always looking to make good on a hustle, Archie was the man responsible for teaching Malcolm X (who was then Malcolm Little) the ropes. He taught him how to dress, how to move, how to do drugs, steal, and live like a gangster. It’s clear from the first moment they meet, that Archie considers Malcolm a surrogate son. He takes him under his wing, and they take to the streets like kings.
Now, because of the copious amounts of liquor drunk and cocaine inhaled, when Malcolm and Archie have a falling out over a bit of money, Archie won’t relent that he’s lost. But in a scene that captures the best of a Lindo transformation, we watch as a friendship is shattered within seconds. (Watch the movie again, and you’ll see that Malcolm is right, and Archie did owe him money.)
West Indian Archie is indeed a memorable pusher, but like most characters in Malcolm X, Lindo is given a chance to reinvent himself later in the picture. In a scene of utter devastation, Malcolm X (now in all his X angst and glory) visits Archie in his shitty Bronx apartment. When he enters the room, Archie is hunched over in a chair, barely able to form a sentence. Years of drugs and booze and crime have worn him down, and here’s what’s left. The moment these two share together is one of the best, most delicate touches in a film that’s as wildly unpredictable as the man it’s titled after. Two actors at the top of their game, holding one another and bidding farewell. That’s acting.
Other Notable Roles
|In The Chicago Code|
Broken Arrow (1996)
A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)
The Last Castle (2001)
Lackawanna Blues (2005)
The Chicago Code (2011)
the Cast of Django Unchained
Michael Clarke Duncan
Philip Baker Hall
Philip Seymour Hoffman
the Cast of Lincoln
William H. Macy
John C. Reilly