Simple review- Welcome back Spike!
I have to give it to Spike Lee, he really surprised me with ” BlacKkKlansman”. There were so many directions this story could have went in, but Lee does a great job walking a line between dark comedy and powerful racial commentary. It has been some time since Spike has put out a film that really resonates with an audience, and as a movie goer I commend him on returning to form and delivering one of his best films.
“BlacKkKlansman” tells an amazing true story of an African-American cop, Ron Stallworth, going undercover to infiltrate the KKK back in the ’70’s. Ron does most of his undercover work over the phone, while his white partner, Flip Zimmerman, serves as Ron’s surrogate at the Klan meetings. This is the main story the film follows, and Spike gives this main plot plenty of excitement, suspense, humanity and, to my surprise, a ton of humor. For a film that deals with the harsh realities of racism, Spike adds some absolutely hilarious moments. He does so as a perfect balance with the more emotional moments. The comedy is never distracting, Lee uses the laughs to give us a counter to the moments that show the brutality of the racial divide in our country.
The comedy does relieve some of the emotional stress watching this movie will bring. There are scenes that shine a bright light on the most violent aspects of the racial conflicts that, unfortunately, still permeate the news today. There is a gut wrenching moment toward the end where a character ( I am not saying who to save the surprise) tells a horrific story of the trial and execution of a young black man, that is inter cut with scenes of the Klan members watching ” Birth of a Nation” ( a horrible silent era film glorifying the Klan), and it is executed to perfection by Lee. I was hanging on every word of the story being told, while being disgusted by the Klan members at the same time. Lee uses ” Birth of a Nation” and other movies as a precursor to the social media hate we are dealing with. In fact, the movie opens with Alec Baldwin as a Klan member filming a promotional film, spouting hate that reminds one of some video you might see on the internet.
The performances, for the most part, are exceptional. John David Washington, as Ron, does an amazing job with this character. This is a man dealing with racism, as the first African-American cop on the Colorado Springs police force, as well as dealing with the hate for the police from his girlfriend, who is a member of the Black power party at her college. She doesn’t know Ron is a cop, as he meets her on an undercover assignment. This is another thing that surprised me from this movie. There is, I hate to say parallel, but more of a thread of similarities from the extremes each side are willing to go. Naturally, The KKK want to kill and forcibly remove all non-whites from the country. They also have the means and ability to get what they need to do it. However, there are statements from the Black power party that shake Ron as well. They bring up taking up arms and shooting cops, and lumping all of the police as racist. Ron tries to get his girlfriend to understand it is possible to change the system from the inside, but she has no time for that. Again, this is another interesting turn Lee takes. He doesn’t make every cop a racist. Most of Ron’s team support him and want to bring down the Klan as much as he does. This was an interesting move that made this movie much more thought provoking than if it would have just been all cops are racist.
Among the other cast members, Adam Driver shines as Flip. He has the more dangerous role in his partnership, as the white version of Ron that actually meets with the Klan. It always seems he is just about to be found out, but manages to talk his way out of the dangerous situation. Driver is becoming one of my favorite actors, and he really delivers in the movie. Flip is Jewish and has to deal with his own emotions about having to play a racist and put down on his own people. Driver brings depth to Flip, and his camaraderie with Ron is the heart of this movie.
Other cast members that shine are Ryan Eggold, as Walter the leader of the local Klan troop. It is weird to say this, but Walter is a well rounded character. Yes, he spouts some awful, hateful things, but you also see him trying to be a friend to Flip, as well as his ambition to rise inside the Klan. Like I said, it is weird to say it but that role could have been very one dimensional, but Eggold does a fine job adding more to the character. Another Klan member that stands out is David Duke, played wonderfully by Topher Grace. Duke is basically the butt of so many jokes throughout the film. Topher does a great job playing Duke as a clueless patsy for Ron’s humor as they talk on the phone. I enjoyed the brief appearance of Corey Hawkins, as Kwame Ture, a leader in the Black power party. The speech he gives at a rally is electric, and the way Lee shoots this scene is captivating. Most of the cast puts in some excellent performances, making the story move forward effortlessly.
Despite all of the excellence on display, there are a few negatives. There are two characters that just didn’t work well for me. The first is Ron’s girlfriend, Patrice, played by Damaris Lewis. Lewis does a good job, but her character doesn’t really have much of an arc to her. There is really only one scene between her and Ron that Lewis is actually given a chance to add more to the character, outside of that she is one-dimensional. Speaking of one-dimensional, that is the best description of Felix, played by Jasper Pääkkönen. Felix is the hate filled Klan member, and that is all he is. He is simply there to be a threat to Ron and Flip, nothing more.
The only other negatives I found were very minor. The first is a scene between Ron and his Sargent that plays like a moment from a prequel film. They literally step into a hallway to have this conversation, that feels like Lee decided to take a break from the movie so these two characters can discuss how it would be impossible to elect some racist to be President of the United States. Wink Wink. It felt unnecessary, as the film doesn’t shy away from paralleling events from today. The film does seem a bit too long. There are about three natural ending points, but Lee keeps going. That is a really small complaint.
To end my rambling review, ” BlacKkKlansman” is an excellent film that is going to be worthy of any awards it is nominated for. I am excited to see where John David Washington’s ( Yes, he is Denzel’s son) goes from here, this could launch his career into stardom. Spike Lee returns to form to deliver an important film that handles racial tension with harsh reality , as well as some outstanding humor. Be warned, the ending is an emotion punch that brought tears to my eyes. It serves as a reminder that we still have a long way to go in this country.
As always, thanks for your time!
The Movie Psycho