Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman brings wit, a furious energy and his trademark style, to a stranger than fiction true story that doesn’t miss a beat within his lively and entertaining storytelling.
Set in 1970’s Colorado Springs, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African- American detective in his precinct. We see him subjected to various racial slurs and general bad attitude from some of his far from superior white colleagues while working in the records room. However, his next assignment sends him undercover to attend a civil rights rally and here he meets Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), the president of the black student union at Colorado College. He’s stirred up by the whole rally, and by his attraction to Dumas.
Once he’s moved to the intelligence division, he happens upon an ad for the Ku Klux Klan in the paper, so, he calls them up. We then witness a hilarious exchange between Stallworth and local chapter leader, Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold), but he’s convincing enough to be invited to meet him in person. Obviously, he can’t attend as himself, so he recruits fellow detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to be the white face of Ron Stallworth in his bid to join the KKK. As their investigation go deeper, Stallworth even manages to have lengthy conversations with Klan Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). This is a dark and unnerving world and they discover a violent plot that puts both themselves and those around them at risk.
The one thing that truly stands out about this film is its ability to be really very funny in some moments while never losing any of the overarching gravitas of the subject at hand. Spike Lee is confronting us with hateful and disturbing language from the get-go from all levels of society while at the same time making us giggle at the idiocy and ridiculousness of the situations presented to us. For example, when the film is introducing various Klan members we meet a spectrum of personalities; your average Joe, a not so bright hick, a doting wife and a downright psychotic. Lee also has fun embracing the 70’s vibe too, adding split screens, big hair, disco dancing, a funky soundtrack, brilliant and stylish costumes and one hell of a trombone shot.
Washington is excellent as Stallworth and can definitely hold his own as a leading man (just like his daddy Denzel). He’s created a likeable fully rounded character who is entertaining but also very much taken seriously by the audience. He had great chemistry with love interest Dumas and his partner in deception Zimmerman. Driver, as always, is incredible to watch on screen, and his portrayal of Zimmerman is given maturity with his own personal journey of identity to play with. I just can’t get enough of this actor, who’s simply made for the big screen.
The Klansman too are well-crafted characters; from the tense and unhinged Felix played by Jasper Pääkkönen, Paul Walter Hauser’s hapless comedic drunk Ivanhoe and the cool calm and collected Duke played superbly by Topher Grace.
The references to America’s history don’t stop in the 1970’s. The film begins on the set of the iconic ‘Gone with the Wind’ showing hundreds of dead soldiers from the Civil War. What follows is again a twist on comedy and horrendous rhetoric as we see Alec Baldwin (most recently known for his send-up of Donald Trump) cast as white race superiority theorist Dr. Kennebrew Beaureguard. There’s also reference made to the highly influential, and extremely racist, 1915 film ‘Birth of a Nation’. The sense of confrontation from Lee with where we find ourselves politically today is very much felt throughout the film. This is particularly confronting at the end when we’re presented with some of the more horrific recent events such as those in Charlottesville. Lee is clearly not mincing his words with this film and his frustration and anger with the 45th President is evident.
BlacKkKlansman is a must see for 2018 for its entertaining storytelling and filmmaking style as well as it’s defiant statements on racial inequality in modern America.