Tuesday, August 21, 2018

[Review] BlacKkKlansman

Prolific and provocative filmmaker Spike Lee returns with BlacKkKlansman, and it's easily one of his most focused, intently cinematic, and thematically-sound efforts in a long time.

Set in the 1970s. We meet Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black cop who is tasked with going undercover in order to infiltrate a local faction of the Ku Klux Klan. Along for the risky ride is Ron's Jewish partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), so they both have some personal stakes in the mission. What ensues is an enthralling, maddening, and fist-bumping tale that almost seems too good to be true.

Despite its entangled nature and chunks of nuances, BlacKkKlansman's plot is very straightforward, which is a welcome return to form for Spike Lee after his last few Joints, which have ranged from the bloated Red Hook Summer, to the sloggy Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, to the muddled and painstakingly operatic Chi-Raq. The tight, momentous narrative here carries a great sense of suspense and intensity, especially as Ron and Flip find themselves getting deeper and deeper. Each scene unfolds with a patient yet substantial crackle of energy, examining racial tensions and injustices on both micro and macro levels. The script is full of scathing humor, incendiary dialogue, and hard-hitting points all at once. There are even some jabs that reflect exactly what's going on in our current sociopolitical climate. "Who would ever elect someone like that?"

John David Washington does an impressive job in the central role, and if you think his voice and line deliveries sound very reminiscent of a guy named Denzel -- welp, that's his dad. Adam Driver is solid as well. I'm convinced that you can pop him into any setting and he'll be great. Also amusing is the curiously cast Topher Grace ("That '70s Show"), who plays KKK leader David Duke with a decidedly foolish, almost cartoonish, weak-willed, and undoubtedly despicable tone. This film also has a remarkable visual flair. It's just so well-shot and it prominently exhibits some of Spike Lee's more artful and aesthetically striking tendencies. Even the few fourth wall breaks are executed in a crafty manner.

It's been noted that Spike Lee has taken plenty of liberties and a sort of revisionist angle with this based-on-true-events story, but there's still significant power and potent relevance in BlacKkKlansman, which is further driven home by the film's ending note of real-life footage of Black Lives Matter marches and Charlottesville riots. Its messages of stopping hate, dismantling white supremacy, and rallying together for the greater good are definitely apparent, and what's even more clear is that there's still a lot more work to be done.

* 9/10 *

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