“BlacKkKlansman” Movie Review


blackklansman-feat

     Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” stands as the director’s finest work in years, and certainly his most important given our society’s current state of division on the topic of race.  By telling a true story dated in 1979, Lee sets out to indicate an obvious juxtaposition between the era on screen and the politics and agendas we deal with today, making the case that not much has changed as people have only dug in further within their beliefs.  If Lee is correct, than our future as a country is bleak at best.  And I don’t believe he intended on making a cautionary tale, but rather a demonstration of our current state of affairs, and the potential consequences of continuing to follow along this same path.  Much like recent films such as “12 Years A Slave” and “Mudbound”, “BlacKkKlansman” reminds us of our often sad and regretful history, but has a unique way of slapping you upside the head in order to ensure you realize all of this is still going on right now.

     In the opening scenes, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) arrives for his interview with the Colorado Springs Police Department, wide eyed and prepared to fulfill his dream of becoming a police officer.  In fact, he is about to become the first African-American police officer in the department's history, a distinction those interviewing him are obviously aware of as they prod him with questions involving his potential reaction to other officers using racial slurs around him and towards him.  The answers to these questions all come in the form of carefully pronounced dialogue so as to make one think he is simply speaking like a white person would (He later tells someone he speaks both regular English and Jive), which is to say he presents himself in a way that ensures he will get the position, avoiding the stereotypes that come with the use of street jargon.  This, of course, will come in handy later.  Ron gets the job, but is relegated to the records room where his day to day duties include fetching records for less than patient white officers who look to test the rookie’s patience with unnecessary below the belt comments about suspects whose skin color is the same as his.

     There are; however, people within the department who champion Ron’s advancement, including Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke), one of the men responsible for his hire, and someone who would seem to benefit from the success an African-American officer could bring to the agency.  After a short stint in his first assignment, Ron is transferred to Narcotics in order to work undercover during a planned speaking engagement at a local college featuring a known Black Power advocate named Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins).  This leads to a fledgling relationship with the organizer of the event, Patrice (Laura Harrier), who seems engrossed by Ture’s teachings and as a result believes all cops are “pigs”.  An incident involving a racist local cop the night of the event only fuels her beliefs, as well as those around her, putting Ron in the precarious position of maintaining his cover and not divulging his true identity.

     Chief Bridges again transfers Ron, this time to the position of Intelligence Detective.  Soon after, a chance reading of an ad for the local Ku Klux Klan chapter sparks an undercover phone call by Ron to the chapter’s recruiter.  And guess what? The two of them hit it off over the phone!  So much so, that Ron is summoned to meet the chapter’s members in person, which puts in motion an operation that has his partner, Flip (Adam Driver), attending the meetings posing as him.  Doing so indicates the hateful and despicable group is up to no good, which pushes Ron and Flip into a full fledged investigation into the chapter in order to find out what nefarious act they are planning.  Is it just hateful talk? Or will they follow through on the terrible crimes they are describing to one another all in an effort to spread their moronic message and hurt innocent and unsuspecting people?  As the plot advances, Lee sets up quite the scenario, all of which is told in a manner where you could easily believe much of it could and does happen today.

     Working from the actual Ron Stallworth’s book, Lee and screenwriters Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott skillfully weave each scene to echo today’s unquestionable racial divide.  Remembering when the story takes place, you have characters who converse about the hate filled rhetoric of Klan leader David Duke (played in the film by Topher Grace), only to ponder how unlikely it would be that someone with much of the same beliefs could someday find their way into the White House.  There are a number of obvious references throughout the film that point to the connection some believe exists between the Klan leader and our current President.  And there is no question at all what Lee’s intent is by telling the story in the first place.  A villainous creep named Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard, played by none other than Alec Baldwin, spews a hate filled racist monologue as the film opens, cut against scenes from 1915’s “The Birth of a Nation” and 1939’s “Gone With The Wind” in an effort to point out how black people were portrayed in film throughout history.

     When the film ends, rather than running the end credits, Lee cuts directly to startling footage from a year ago in Charlottesville, West Virginia, as hoards of white supremacists and neo Nazis  marched in protest of the removal of several Confederate statues located on the college campus there.  We then see President Trump’s press conference in the aftermath where he tells the press each side was culpable for what occurred and failed to denounce the actions of a clearly racist faction that is still very much alive within our society.  Lee’s inclusion of this segment wasn't necessary to get his point across, given the superlatives of “BlacKkKlansman” does that just fine and with a razor sharp effectiveness.  Adding the Charlottesville footage seemed like overkill after he so skillfully told a story that to any intelligent member of the audience would certainly drive home the point he is trying to make.

     If you have watched the HBO series “Ballers”, than you are already well aware of John David Washington and his ability to play against the likes of Dwayne Johnson and steal the show with effortless charisma and charm.  “BlacKkKlansman” allows Washington a role which not only exhibits his enormous talents, but also one that tells the world he has without question arrived and is a force to reckoned with.  One of things I really loved was how he exuded the passion for being a cop and doing what was right, even in the face of adversity coming both from his superiors, as well as Patrice and the Black Power movement who see him as a sell out.  Driver is also solid as his Jewish American partner who he himself contends with consistently hiding his true heritage in order to be accepted within the mainstream.  But it’s Spike Lee who expertly puts all of this together, resulting in an often hilarious take on subject matter that would otherwise be difficult to watch.  “BlacKkKlansman” is one of the best films of the year, and stands as one of Lee’s best amongst his already impressive body of work (“He Got Game” & “Clockers” are two of my favorite films).  The only problem is us.  Will we heal our divide?  Or will the hate in this country be the final nail in society’s coffin?  GRADE: A