Let’s take a look at the new Spike Lee Joint.
BlacKkKlansman tells the almost unbelievable true story of officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) who infiltrates the KKK—while being black. The true story behind this film is just about as crazy as the now dramatized version (I’m not going to get into the historical inaccuracies).
Stallworth answers a newspaper ad for the KKK, and finds himself impressing the individuals on the phone as he presents a stereotypical racist. However, once it becomes time to do a face-to-face meeting, there is an obvious problem. Undercover office Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) will pretend to be Stallworth in person, but Stallworth will continue to contact white supremacists on the phone. He even gets as far as to speak with David Duke (Topher Grace). He manages to lead this double life while kindling a relationship with black activist Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier). As certain clan members begin to question Zimmerman, Stallworth’s multiple lives slowly begin to coincide.
The film manages to feel like a Spike Lee film while being perhaps his most accessible work (outside of perhaps Inside Man). I have a high and low opinion of Spike Lee, either his films are lightning in a bottle or they simply don’t strike me as interesting. The good news is that this film showcases Lee at his peak powers. The film doesn’t really miss a beat (I found the opening with Alec Baldwin a little odd), and maintains a high level of thoughtfulness and entertainment throughout.
How in the world these two cops pulled this off is mindboggling. I honestly think the story is so crazy that it wouldn’t work unless it had actually happened—real life is stranger than fiction. Sure, Dave Chapelle had his famous bit about a black KKK leader, but that was designed to be absurd.
Our two leads are both phenomenal. I have seen Adam Driver in a lot, and he is quickly becoming a must-watch actor. I wasn’t familiar with John David Washington, but let’s just say talent doesn’t fall far from the tree. He looks a lot like his father, but it blew my mind how much he sounds like his father. The acting her is perfect, and often the actors (and actresses) have to convey a variety of emotions quickly, and sometimes without dialogue. While there isn’t a dud performance in the entire film, Washington impressed me greatly. There is a moment (no spoilers) where he is wearing sunglasses and trying to not stand out. The charisma, energy, and presence of him vanishes in these moments—in a good way. I realized how much he acts with his eyes when they are suddenly blocked from our view.
We get a nice balance of comedy, action, suspense, drama, and biography throughout. A film juggling this much could easily misfire, but here we have a bulls-eye on just about every account. Any film that can have you scared, laughing, and then end with an incredibly powerful punch in the stomach is certainly worth seeing.
The specter of racism is behind every scene, and we see how the clan tried to rebrand itself into a more mainstream ideology. It is impossible to not draw comparisons to current times, and this gives the film a bit of a tragic edge. If I had to criticize one portion of the film, it is that the KKK members we see are pretty much complete idiots. Granted, a lot of them certainly are, but the central thesis of this film is that they are evolving to become more palatable to everyday Americans. I would have liked to see more of the insidious nature of them. The scary thing about studying racist rhetoric is how competent they can be at making convincing (albeit complete bullshit) arguments about race. A truly terrifying KKK leader is one who can have you nodding along through twisted logic—not one who seems incapable of tying their shoes, or the stereotypical psychopath.
So, I do have a complaint. I wanted to see more. I wanted more of Patrice, more of the black speakers, more of the clan’s efforts, more history, and this is a good problem for a film to have. I walked away thinking, and the film has stayed with me longer than many others this year. Overall, this is simply damn good filmmaking. For cinema goers, this one should be pretty high on your must-see, and is a clear contender for my movie of the year.
Still reading? Go see the movie!