Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace
Director: Spike Lee
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: From visionary filmmaker Spike Lee comes the incredible true story of an American hero. It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream. Produced by the team behind the Academy-Award (R) winning Get Out.
Ever since early reviews came out of Cannes, BlacKkKlansman has been one of the films I have been most excited for this year. Do The Right Thing is one of the films that was included in my first film appreciation class and got me hooked onto everything associated with the Spike Lee brand. BlacKkKlansman is in a unique class of its own through its ability to not only to entertain us and make us laugh, but to also connect the plot to reality and show us how these ideas are socially relevant. Powered by incredible supporting performances from Driver and Grace as well as amazing cinematography and editing make BlacKkKlansman one of Lee’s best films ever.
The film follows Ron Stallworth (Washington), the first black police officer in Colorado Springs who works his way up to becoming one of the city’s detectives. Seeing an advertisement in the local newspaper for the Ku Klux Klan, Stallworth calls the number impersonating a white man who is interested in joining the organization. Knowing that he can never meet them in person and having used his real name on the call, Stallworth recruits detective Flip Zimmermann (Driver) to be the man who attends these meetings under the name Ron Stallworth while the real Ron establishes contact with them over the phone. One of things I immediately noticed is just how hypnotizing the scenes where Flip interacts with the Klan are. Their rhetoric is incredibly simple and can be broken with the simplest of logic, but with the constant repetition of their lies, it can be easy to see why people go down this path. Flip has to tow a very fine line between having to say these absolutely horrible things about minorities, but never actually believing them. I cannot imagine the emotional toll an investigation like this would have had on the real life officer, and I can feel the stress that Driver is going through in every scene, a true testament to his ability in this role. Outside of Driver, Grace gives an incredibly complex performance as former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke. Grace is charismatic in the evilest of ways in this role, and shows multiple layers as to how racism and bigotry can become so popular. You would the leader of an organization such as the Ku Klux Klan would be someone who uses fear and violence to get their point across, but in this role, Grace is well-spoken and professional and if you were already racist, hearing someone like him speak so calmly and gracefully would be an easy excuse to join his organization as you finally found someone smarter than you that shares your beliefs. It lets us know that racism is not just people getting together and burning crosses in a field, but it requires people who can sit back and get things done without getting arrested. From a technical standpoint, I loved cinematographer Chayse Irvin’s choices regarding the shots he uses and editor Barry Alexander Brown’s edits he chose to help add elements to his scenes. The last shot with Washington in particular is a very pretty dolly shot that looks like it is paying homage to the blaxploitation films of the 1970’s like Superfly which are mentioned earlier in the film. An example of Brown’s elite editing comes during a speech by Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins), where Ron is undercover in the audience. As Ture’s words resonate with the audience, various reactions are shown and as one fades, another one comes on the screen. I really enjoyed seeing Ron’s reactions compared to those in the audience and the way it was done signified just how important a speaker Ture was in that moment. After all else is said and done, I think the one thing everyone will talk about after watching this movie is the ending. I am not sure how I feel about the ending, but I have to admit it was one of the most powerful scenes I have ever seen. It beautifully compares Ron’s situation to events going on today with the subtlety of a bulldozer. It may not be everyone’s favorite moment, but maybe this is the moment we all needed to see if we want to see changes in the future. Change cannot happen without first there being some discomfort, and if five minutes of discomfort leads to a generation of change, then that scene has served its purpose.
Overall, BlacKkKlansman shows us that Spike Lee is the generational talent that I always thought he was. With his signature profanity, humor, and connection to the real world, Lee has another hit on his hands that will more than likely get some serious consideration during award season. One of the things I have always appreciated from Lee’s movies is his ability to get fantastic performances out of his supporting roles, and that is very apparent in this film. If movies that push boundaries are not your favorite thing to see, then for your own sake stay far away from this movie. For everyone else, you are in for a real treat with this one, both from a technical, acting, and thematic standpoint.
Overall Score: 9/10