A true Spike Lee Joint.
As it pertains to films that deal with the subject of race and race relations among marginalized minorities, one filmmaker’s name stands out: Spike Lee. Lee’s “joints” have not only led to his iconic status as a filmmaker, but also a case study in how to incorporate the difficult subject matter of race into film, most notably “Do the Right Thing”, “Malcolm X”, and “Jungle Fever”. Over the last decade or so, however, Lee appeared to have taken a break from his racially centered films, waiting for the right project to work his legendary craftsmanship. That project appears to have come in the form of “BlacKkKlansman”, based on the true story of the man who infiltrated the Klu Klux Klan, Ron Stallworth.
Based on a true story, “BlacKkKlansman” follows Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a young African American man who becomes the first black police officer to join the Colorado Springs Police Department. After being transferred to the department’s intelligence division, Stallworth notices an advertisement to join the Klu Klux Klan’s Colorado Springs chapter, and begins to infiltrate “the organization” by impersonating a white man. With the help of fellow undercover Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), Stallworth uncovers a potential attack on African American activists, all perpetrated by the Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke (Topher Grace).
“BlacKkKlansman” is yet another tremendous film to be added to the legendary filmography of Spike Lee. Lee is able to seamlessly transport the audience to the 1970s, not just with the style and look of the characters, but by also highlighting the racial tensions during that era. Scenes of black student union rallies and protests, police officers abusing their power, and of KKK meetings and ceremonies put you right in the middle of the era, and will have you feeling uneasy at the seemingly impending war many of the characters discuss. Lee’s directing style is also ever present in the film, and “BlacKkKlansman” might be his most stylish film to date. After seemingly losing a step, the film serves as a reminder of just how talented and in tune Lee is with his craft.
The true story in and of itself, though exaggerated in parts for dramatic effect, is not only brought to life by Lee’s direction, but by the excellent cast as well. John David Washington’s turn as Ron Stallworth could turn out to be his star-making turn, as he is able to convey the struggle Stallworth has with not just infiltrating the Klan, but also his perceived unwillingness to be down for the liberation of black people due to his profession as a police officer. Adam Driver continues to show his versatility with his turn as Detective Flip Zimmerman, and gives another underrated performance.
Laura Harrier proves there’s life after modeling and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” with her turn as a black-rights activist and love interest of Stallworth, showcasing her abilities as an actress. Topher Grace gives a chilling performance David Duke, the head of the KKK, one that will make audience forget his nice guy persona on “That 70s Show.” Other chilling turns come from Ryan Eggold, Jasper Pääkkönen, and Paul Walter Hauser as members of the Colorado Springs chapter of the Klan, as they instill a fear in the audience as to what dangers they are about to cause.
Perhaps the greatest strength of “BlacKkKlansman” is its ability to connect its setting to the current state of America. Footage of the horrific violence that occurred in Charlottesville in August of 2017 will serve as a stark reminder that while America has made strides in terms of improving race relations, the current America we live in today resembles that of the films setting. The footage of current President Donald Trump refusing to denounce the Neo Nazis who perpetrated the violence echoes the dialogue of the Klan members in the film, including that of David Duke, who continues to spout his hateful speech to this very day. Lee is able to connect the themes of race and hate expertly throughout the film, but saves his best for last with the parallels he makes from one era to another.
“BlacKkKlansman” is an American classic. Its true story and subject matter are timeless and will serve as a wake-up call for Americans as to what is currently happening to the country. With a terrific cast, expert production, and careful direction, Lee is able to make his latest joint not only one of his best in years, but one of the best joints in his legendary career.
Rating: 4 out 4 stars. Pay Full Price.
“BlacKkKlansman” stars John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ryan Eggold, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson, Corey Hawkins, Nicholas Turturro, Harry Belafonte, and Alec Baldwin. It is in theaters now.