The Great Debaters

Rated 3.0

Ends Thurs., Jan. 17. A fascinating bit of American history about the debate team from a small African-American college going up against the national champions from an elite all-white university, circa 1935 is rendered forth as rousing entertainment. Denzel Washington directs, and plays the central adult role Melvin B. Tolson, poet, activist, teacher, debate coach in slightly larger-than-life but brusquely agreeable form. Forest Whitaker provides a powerful foil as the sternly professorial James Farmer Sr. Tolson’s brilliant upstarts include future civil rights activists Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett) and James Farmer jr. (Denzel Whitaker, no relation). Nate Parker is impressive as Henry Lowe, the most paradoxically conflicted member of the team.