Arguably his best film in years, Spike Lee returns to mainstream cinema with BlacKkKlansman; a groovy 70’s romp that through retrospect, satirically captures the racial strife that divided America in that era. Throughout the film, Lee balances on a tonal tightrope by surprising audiences with the comedically ridiculous while reflecting on the politically insane. The film confronts you with the outright racially divided 70’s America and you can’t help but be highly entertained through an electric cast, poppy editing and a captivating story; a story so unbelievable the film has to open with a disclaimer stating: “This is based on some fo’ real, fo’ real s***”.
BlacKkKlansman centres on young aspiring police officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) who becomes the first black officer in Colorado Springs. Hungry for more than the file room, he is quickly transferred to undercover investigations and soon leads his own case infiltrating The Ku Klux Klan. Stallworth is the voice on the phone while his partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) plays the white physical presence. The deeper their investigation goes, schemes of hate arise that they must stop before an all-out race revolution sparks.
Lee makes great editorial call backs to the black exploitation films of that era that clearly inspired him for this story. His fast-paced editing pops off screen and truly cements the time period of the film. There is a great sense of authenticity to the production value, from its fabulous costumes, flamboyant hair styles and a killer soundtrack, the film just oozes coolness.
John David Washington is magnificently charming in the lead. Following in his father’s footsteps, a commanding auteur director like Lee brings the best out in Denzel Washington which is no different from his son. Washington gives a lively and soulful performance. The majority of laughs come from his astonishing phone calls to the Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke (which really did happen). But he still treats his racial surroundings with stoic acceptance, seeking change in a reserved and patient way from the inside of a police station. It’s riding the Get Out wave of fresher and more inventive takes on race relations that’s sweeping Hollywood.
The story’s subject matter is very much it’s strong suit. Due to recent events within the sphere of American politics, this film has an extra kick to its message. There is however a sense that Lee had to over emphasise his message, “strike while the iron is hot- extra, extra hot”. With a lot of unfortunate parallels to today’s America (Charlottesville Riots) it’s a timely piece that unnecessarily hits the audience a little too on the nose. In some cases, it’s subtle; other times it’s spoon fed.
Even though the third act feels needlessly rushed to a tense climax, BlacKkKlansman puts Lee back in his wheelhouse among the likes of Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X. He’s making films that matter, that are products of a time period and challenge audiences to see what’s around them. A politically charged memoir that sounds so outrageous, it can’t be missed.