By Jack Dignan
It’s not shocking to point out that the world has seen better days. We, as people, are on a gradually declining downward spiral, with history repeating itself over and over in the most vile and abrasive of ways. And Spike Lee is mad. The Malcom X and Do The Right Thing director knows when enough is enough, and it’s long past that point. His latest, BlacKkKlansman, is a powerful sentiment to the world we’re currently living in.
We live in a repulsive, violent society, led by an orange-faced madman with an affinity for nazis, and Lee’s new film serves as a major “fuck you” to Trump and the people who helped bring him to power. Yet the best part of it is that this isn’t some consistently depressing, bleak commentary on the world we live in. This is a Spike Lee joint, and it’s every bit as wild, entertaining and shocking as you’d hope. Lee didn’t come to mess around, and the final product is a near-masterpiece.
Based on a true story, and adapted from his own book, we follow the story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), Colorado’s first African-American police officer. Sick of being slumped with mundane tasks, Ron takes it upon himself to initiate contact with the Ku Klux Klan, in the hopes of going undercover and taking down the leaders from the inside. The obvious issues with that plan don’t even need to be mentioned. So, instead, Ron teams up with Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a white cop who can take on Ron’s identity and meet with the Klan face to face.
It’s an outrageous true story that, despite its late 70s setting, proves unsettlingly relatable today. Ron’s story is a powerful one, masked with humour that lands more often that not, but woven together with serious social commentary in ways only Lee could. BlacKkKlansman’s tone manages to find the perfect balance of laughs and drama, with these characters put into situations that, in of themselves, naturally create an element of intrigue and quite often hilarity. The first black cop in Colorado sounds like a movie of its own, but having that cop also infiltrate the KKK? I’m sold.
John David Washington’s central performance carries the entire film through to its haunting, unrelenting finale. Armed with the mother of all afro’s, Washington’s breakthrough role hints at a promising career to come, paralleling the arc of his character. His dynamic with the always-brilliant Adam Driver never ceased to amaze. The character they create, the dual-identity of the fictitious Ron Stallworth, is a fascinating layer to the plot, one I found myself constantly on edge about, always worrying about things inevitably going wrong. There’s a moment in the third act between the real Ron and an important Klan member (I won’t spoil who) that goes beyond memorable.
There are a couple of pacing issues early into the second act, where screenwriters Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee are forced to overcome the hurdle of introducing each of the Ku Klux Klan members. The scenes are often tense, with Lee’s hand firmly on the wheel, but things don’t really get kicked into gear until the introduction of Topher Grace’s David Duke, which happens a little later into the film than the trailers would imply. All the undercover stuff works great, but once Duke’s involved, it takes on a whole other level of brilliance, and Grace gives the performance of a lifetime.
Can it get a little bit on the nose? Sure. But that doesn’t lessen the impact of why this film needs to exist. It delivers just the right amount of satisfaction before slamming you back down into the ground. This film couldn’t have been made at any other point in time. It’s the film the world needs right now, and it’s one you’ll regret not checking out and supporting, especially when Awards season rolls around. BlacKkKlansman is the single most enjoyable gut-punch 2018 has delivered thus far. I’m seeing it again next week. I implore you all to do the same.
4 1/2 Stars
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