by Johnny De Jesus
The Movie Guys
Is Spike Lee back? I don’t wanna cause any jinxes, but if he keeps this upward pattern I’d be happy to say he’s back. That’s not to say that he was ever gone, he was always working on something, and even if the outcome wasn’t great, (Cough!) Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (Cough!), it was always good to see him take some risks and try something new. He’s been at it strong since She’s Gotta Have It in 1986 so you’ve got to respect someone who’s still got something to say all these years later, which brings us to BlacKkKlansman.
Based on the crazy true story of a black detective, Ron Stallworth, played very comically by John David Washington, son of Lee regular Denzel Washington, going undercover to infiltrate a local Klan group in 1972. The film takes place Colorado Springs and Stallworth is the first African American on the police force during a time when the Klan was able to place ads in the paper to boost recruitment. Race is a common theme in Lee’s films and he always manages to keep it fresh and not just another retelling of the same story. Though BlacKkKlansman has very serious moments, it also has a lot of funny parts throughout and Lee is a master at balancing the tones without having sudden shifts to throw off the audience.
Stallworth also has to do a lot of balancing throughout the film, playing the part of an officer and trying to find his place as a black man in a racist society. The character has a lot of depth and although we don’t see him struggle a lot, there are times when we see the bind he is stuck in with no real easy choice to make. His partner, played by Adam Driver, also goes through some similar changes, having to go undercover as a racist and come to terms with the fact that he’s Jewish. The love interest, Patrice, is played wonderfully by Laura Herrier and she brings as much as she can to the character, she’s smart and stands up for what she believes in. She’s imperfect and has flaws but is strong enough to accept them and move on from there. An interesting standout in the film is Topher Grace as Grand Wizard David Duke. He didn’t give some grand award winning performance as much as something better than you’d expect from someone like him, think Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network. The other actors who played Klan members were also really good at playing various degrees of scummy racists, especially Jasper Pääkkönen as Felix, who you would not want to run into ever.
Spike adds lots of his touches, just in case you forgot it was one of his films, like mentioned before, the balance of drama and comedy as seen in Do the Right Thing, the floating dolly shot as seen in many of his films, probably most uniquely in Crooklyn, the great score by Terence Blanchard reminiscent of the one from Inside Man, a great dance number like in Malcolm X, and the harking back to the portrayal of African Americans in early cinema as seen multiple times in the underrated Bamboozled. Despite these familiar touches, there are some things showing a still evolving director at work and someone willing to take some chances.
The film doesn’t just start right into the story. It has a clip from Gone with the Wind and then a brief segment featuring Alec Baldwin as a racist doctor trying to get his point across about the white race being superior. There is a very important and moving scene involving a character played by Harry Belafonte retelling the story of a vile and horrible lynching of a young man contrasted with white men becoming fully fledged Klan members, it is a very haunting and tragic scene that adds to the importance of the film. Unfortunately, we’re still living in troubling times with numerous racist groups still thriving and spreading their hate, and its films like this that are crucial to showing the world some history (so it’s not continuously repeated). This is a film to be seen and discussed. I can only hope that Spike will keep up the great work because it’s an excellent addition to the recent run on unique films that are coming out with something meaningful to say.
Directed by: Spike Lee
Release Date: August 10, 2018
Run Time: 145 Minutes
Distributor: Focus Features