Movie Review: ‘BlacKkKlansman’ (2nd Opinion)
Plot: In 1970s Colorado, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is hired as the first black cop in the history of the Colorado Springs police department. Although he starts out in the records room, Ron is eventually reassigned to the intelligence division. There he sees an ad for the KKK and calls posing as a white man, hoping to infiltrate the organization with the assistance of veteran detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). However, as the investigation proceeds the stakes and the danger escalate.
Review: Cinema serves a variety of functions for people. Some seek no more than a surface level entertainment experience. They desire to tune out the world and indulge in the gripping action of Die Hard or the ridiculous humor of Step Brothers. Others look for transcendent experiences in films like Fellini’s 8 1/2 or Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Not only do I believe that there is room for both, I believe each possesses equal validity. At its most fundamental level, great cinema moves you in some way, and in rare instances makes you see the world from a new perspective.
Director Spike Lee’s latest film BlacKkKlansman is one of those films.
Bold, unapologetic, socially relevant, and wildly entertaining, BlacKkKlansman proves to be Spike Lee’s best film since 1992’s Malcolm X and arguably the best film he’s ever made. Dripping with Lee’s signature style (the film starts with a caption that reads, “Dis joint is based upon some fo’ real fo’ real shit”) BlacKkKlansman deftly balances biting humor, harrowing thrills, racial commentary, and profound drama. The film easily transitions between tense dramatic moments (Ron being grilled by his superiors before becoming an officer) and pulse pounding thrills (an attack by Ron on a KKK member’s house to save Flip that ends in gunfire).
In many ways BlacKkKlansman is a master’s class on how to direct a great film. Whether it’s an establishing shot of Ron looking up at the sign for the CSPD and foreshadowing the hill he’ll have to climb, or a hallway shot towards the end of the film that shows Ron and his girlfriend Patrice (Laurie Harrier) rolling, unfortunately, towards an uncertain and scary future, every moment has a purpose. Not a second is wasted.
Cinematographer Chayse Irvin proves to be the best cinematographer Lee’s worked with since Ernest Dickerson, who did his first six films. He fully realizes Lee’s vision. Credit Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee for adapting Stallworth’s memoir into an enthralling script with smart, biting dialogue and a distinct 1970s feel. Make no mistake this is a fully vested 70s movie down to the clothing style and the sizzling soundtrack featuring James Brown and The Temptations.
Although he’s early in his film career, I believe BlacKkKlansman will mark the film John David Washington steps out of his famous father’s (Denzel) shadow. Washington owns this role. It was a delight to watch him banter with David Duke (played impeccably by Topher Grace) or see his relationship with his partner Flip evolve. Spike Lee does a superb job showing Stallworth’s struggles with his duality. On one hand he loves being a police officer and indeed feels the need to defend them to his girlfriend Patrice who constantly refers to them as “pigs.” At the same he yearns to embrace his black heritage and work from within to end the constant harassment of black brothers and sisters at the hands of racist police officers.
As good as Washington was in BlacKkKlansman, it’s Adam Driver that steals the show as the Jewish undercover detective posing as Ron for the Klan. Some of Driver’s scenes had me riveted, such as one where KKK member Felix (Jasper Paakkonen) holds Flip at gunpoint to take a lie detector test. Anyone who thinks this guy is just Kylo Ren from Star Wars hasn’t been paying attention. The man can flat-out act. Both are likely to get Oscar nominations next month, although Driver is much more deserving of the two.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the overriding social commentary on racism in BlacKkKlansman. This is not always an easy movie to watch and it’s not meant to be. It’s meant to make you uncomfortable as great cinema sometimes does. The message is in no way subtle and in one way or another is constantly in your face. But bottom line-it’s meant to be and in this volatile political climate when white nationalism becomes more and more normalized, it needs to be. Ron’s struggles are a reminder that institutional racism is a thing that still very much exists. There’s an implied call to action: what are you going to do about it? Though the film takes place in the 1970s, you can clearly draw parallels to what’s going on in America today. And the coda to this movie, while some critics felt unnecessary, drives home that point like the hammer of Thor.
BlacKkKlansman proves to be a powerful and riveting piece of cinema that’s as challenging as it is entertaining. Spike Lee’s movie is one of 2018’s best films and not to be missed.
My rating System:
0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
You can follow me on Twitter at @DarthGandalf1