“BlacKkKlansman” Movie Review
To be honest, I’m not too familiar with Spike Lee’s work. The list of ones I’ve seen barely takes up space on a sticky note. Malcolm X– which funny enough stars BlacKkKlansman lead John David Washington’s father, Denzel Washington- is overly long but nonetheless a stunning autobiography of one of America’s most significant Civil Rights activists. And you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve made Do the Right Thing the subject of college papers and writing assignments. I could probably go on a spiel about what the color scheme symbolizes, the significance of each camera angle, blah, blah, So even though I’m not yet acquainted with the bulk of Lee’s filmography, I’ve seen enough to know that Spike Lee has a distinct point-of-view and isn’t afraid of showing it.
His voice and vision come to play wonderfully in BlacKkKlansman, his latest project based on the memoir of the same name. It tells the crazy true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who, in the early 1970s, became the first black detective on the Colorado Springs police department. Bored with rookie assignments and fetching files in the records office, Ron gets his wish and is moved to the intelligence division. One day he sees an ad in the newspaper for new members of the Ku Klux Klan. He calls the organization, posing as a white supremacist. He keeps up the façade over the phone, and manages to work his way up the hierarchy, eventually reaching the grand weasel himself, David Duke (Topher Grace). And with the help of fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) – a Jewish guy who goes undercover as the surrogate for Ron’s white man ruse- Ron spearheads an elaborate plan to infiltrate and expose the local chapter of the KKK.
What I love about BlacKkKlansman is how it feels both retro and contemporary. Individual aspects of the film- such as the music, the camerawork, the writing, the performances, and even the faint grittiness of the quality- are crafted in a way that tricks you into thinking you’re watching something straight out of 1970s Blaxploitation cinema. At the same time, it’s dealing with subject matter that’s more than timely, and the filmmakers highlight the relevancy of racism with unapologetic fervor. Hell, there’s a moment where David Duke talks about making America great again. Hmmm, now where have we heard that before?
Nonetheless, Lee’s direction exudes the utmost confidence. There are one or two stylistic choices that don’t work, including shots that try to be inspiring but come off as awkward. Though for the most part, nothing about the filmmaking feels pretentious. And I appreciate how the film explores multiple sides of a particular issue. Characters have actual conversations about whether fighting a system of oppression within the system itself is acceptable compared to fighting it head on from the outside, and how coming into contact with racist institutions can affect one’s awareness of their own ethnicity or religion. The inclusion of these different perspectives adds a lot of weight to an already meaty narrative.
All of the actors do a fantastic job. On their own, Adam Driver and John David Washington are very good. Washington’s acting is a little iffy at first, but as the film progressed, the stronger it got. As partners, Driver and Washington work off each other very well, seeing how they’re basically playing two halves of the same role in the context of the story. Topher Grace’s performance as the David Duke, the grand scumbag himself, is nothing short of brilliant. I know the mere experience of researching for the part took a lot out of the guy, but I’m glad to say the work payed off.
The only major problem I have is with the ending. And I’m talking about the very very ending. Ron Stallworth’s story wraps up neatly, closing on a high note. Instead of leaving it at that, the filmmakers choose to attach an epilogue that includes footage from an event that unfolded not too long ago. Seeing it on the big screen is a visceral, bone-chilling experience. And as tragic, disturbing and powerful as it is, the placement of it feels a bit forced. The film had already done such an excellent job at showing how far we’ve come and yet how much things haven’t changed, that I think the epilogue was unnecessary. Important, but unneeded.
If you can’t already tell, I love BlacKkKlansman. It is definitely one of the best movies of the year and I highly recommend it. It’s cool, it’s funny, it’s suspenseful and best of all, it’s based on a true story. So educate yourselves and treat yourselves to a truly fascinating film.
Cosmic Grade- 4.8/5 Stars