In 1989 you could say Denzel Washington was on the cusp of super stardom. His film “The Mighty Quinn” came right on the heels of “Cry Freedom” and his first Academy Award nomination and right before “Glory” and his first Oscar win. Everything was clicking for Washington and his career was set to take off.
“The Mighty Quinn” is one of Washington’s movies that kinda gets lost in the shuffle. Perhaps that’s due to it being book-ended by two attention-getting Oscar-nominated pictures. Or maybe it’s because the film really doesn’t stand out at all. That may sound like a sharp criticism, but it really isn’t. “The Mighty Quinn” is simply a light and laid-back crime caper that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but that has fun doing what it’s doing.
The film is based on Arthur H. Z. Carr’s 1971 crime novel “Finding Maubee” and its title is inspired by a Bob Dylan penned folk-song. It’s directed by a relatively unknown Carl Schenkel but written by Hampton Fancher who is best known for co-writing Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” and its eventual sequel “Blade Runner 2049”. Needless to say this is a MUCH different movie.
Washington plays Xavier Quinn, the chief of police on a Caribbean island with a strong Jamaican resemblance. The people respect Chief Quinn and he’s in good standing with the local governor (Norman Beaton). The only bump in the road is at home with his frustrated wife Lola (Sheryl Lee Randolph) who is tired of his job and the lack of time he spends with her and their son.
Things take a turn when a wealthy American businessman is brutally murdered at a fancy island resort. The stuffy and smug owner Thomas Elgin (James Fox) works to sweep the the crime under the rug and the local government is quick to oblige. They immediately pin the murder on a local free-spirited con-artist and Quinn’s childhood friend Maubee (Robert Townsend). Quinn doesn’t buy it and sets out to uncover the truth amid loads of corruption of cover-ups.
The film has much of what you want out of a crime thriller but there is also a subtle playfulness to it. You see it in the vibrant locations, in the interesting array of locals, in the steady wave of island music, and most of all in Washington’s performance. He brings a fun and interesting flavor to his character, balancing serious intensity with well-tempered humor. Sure his accent sometimes wanders off, but he’s still a great fit.
Once again, when looking at Denzel Washington’s filmography it’s understandable how “The Mighty Quinn” may have fallen between the cracks. It’s not the kind of movie that would draw a lot of attention especially when placed next to other films from the actor’s impressive body of work. It’s also unfortunate because this is a fun movie that sets the table for some of the roles Washington would later become famous for.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS