Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace
In the 1970s Ron Stallworth (Washington) is the first African-American to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department, and with the help of his colleague Phillip ‘Flip’ Zimmerman (Driver) tries to infiltrate to Ku Klux Klan with them both pretending to be the same person – Ron does the talking on the phone as himself, while Flip meets them pretending to be Ron, but can they keep the facade going?
Whether you like his films or not, there is no denying the raw passion that Spike Lee brings to some of his films, and BlacKkKlansman is a real return to form for him, as it is not only a great demonstration of the passion of which he Injects into his films, but also his talents as an accomplished filmmaker that knows how to put together a thoroughly engaging narrative.
Though it may be based on a true story and set in the 70s, BlacKkKlansman very much tackles head on some of the issues in Trump’s current America and incorporates this very skilfully into its narrative. Of course, most of these themes, ideas and warnings will not tell anyone with half a brain something they do not already know, so instead of being patronising or preachy, Spike Lee intentionally adopts a predominantly more comedic approach (apart from the appropriately sombre and cautionary closing moments of the film) which only serves to effectively emphasise the arguably almost farcical situation of the current political situation in America, but also makes for a really enjoyable and engaging film.
Indeed, in BlacKkKlansman there are moments that are laugh-out-loud hilarious and utterly horrifying in equal measure, but Lee manages to skilfully incorporate these into a truly engaging narrative that is tremendously watchable from start to finish. The moments that are horrifying are never over-done, and it is the fact they feel so real and believable that makes them so genuinely horrifying.
What is also crucial for the film to work as well is it does is that we are also given two main characters that are really likeable and worth routing for. As Ron and Flip, John David Washington and Adam Driver are excellent and share genuine on-screen chemistry. When these characters find themselves in difficult situations there is no escaping the tension as we genuinely want them to succeed and the film effectively portrays the genuine danger these characters put themselves in when they are with people who passionately follow and believe in what most ‘normal’ people would consider to be very extreme and ultimately deluded. This is also helped by the great performances from the supporting cast, one of the standouts being Topher Grace as a young David Duke.
BlacKkKlansman is also a wonderfully made film that is brilliantly shot by Lee and often features effective long takes, as well as truly capturing its setting of time and place with impeccable attention to detail in the set design, Terence Blanchard’s often 70’s guitar influenced score and Chayse Irvine’s sublime cinematography. Though it may contain the occasional narrative contrivance that seems to be placed to help speed the story along, BlacKkKlansman is one of Spike Lee’s most accomplished films for some time.
A skilful combination of urgent political message and good old-fashioned narrative storytelling; BlacKkKlansman is one of Spike Lee’s best films for a while and one that manages to skilfully incorporate the farcically hilarious with the downright horrifying.