BlacKkKlansman review John David Washington Adam DriverYear: 2018
Director(s): Spike Lee
Writer(s): Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Color, 135 mins

Synopsis: Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan with the help of a white surrogate. (Source)

BlacKkKlansman is Spike Lee ripping open the zeitgeist. By presenting the story about a black, rookie cop who convinced the KKK he was white, Lee confronts the fears eating away at America from the inside out. It’s raw, real, funny, uncomfortable to watch, and, true. With its embarrassing depiction of the KKK, Lee artfully takes the infamous hate group down a few levels, exposing them for the scared, ignorant schmucks they really are. This happens through one of the year’s most rapturous films, one that’s able to balance cartoonish humor while still being serious about revealing racism one lie at a time. With powerful performances from John David Washington, Adam Driver and Laura Harrier, Lee’s latest burns with incendiary purpose, entertaining as much as it informs and sets the record straight.

It all begins in Colorado Springs, 1927, with an African American man named Ron Stallworth (John David Washington). Not wanting to watch from the outside, Stallworth decides to take the fight from within. After being accepted as Colorado Springs’ first black police officer, Stallworth quickly climbs ranks to become a detective. After stumbling upon a low-key recruitment ad for the KKK, Stallworth makes a phone call, without thinking that anything will come out of it. To his surprise, he’s warmly, but cautiously received over the phone, where no one can discern the color of his skin. After a few convos, the local Klan chapter decides that they’d love for him to join up, and it’s then when Stallworth enlists the help of fellow white, Jewish officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). Unwittingly forced to hide his real background, Zimmerman plays the part, complimenting Stallworth’s rousing phone calls with in-person meet ups. With Stallworth’s cunning resolve, the pair work their way deep into the organization and prevent some heinous threats.

BlacKkKlansman review John David Washington Laura HarrierAt the film’s core, is an incredible story that uses the past to make us reevaluate the present. Lee shows us how racism has been embedded into nearly every aspect of American life – from blockbusters, to societal conditioning and even the fears that trick some into thinking that they need to make America “great” again. Through the film’s careful dissection of pop culture and even social norms and perception, it feels like a modern mirror more than anything else. It’s also a terrifying revelation of how prejudice hasn’t exactly changed, but just adapted.

Balancing the film’s oft-times harrowing subject matter, Lee never misses an opportunity to mine the natural absurdity of Stallworth’s tricky undercover work. Taken from Stallworth’s own memoirs, the Klan’s infiltration via engaging conversations is so ridiculous, it dares us to imagine how this could be true. But while the film’s humor does help to lighten things, its the story’s central idea of unity that really shines. Though Lee rightfully keeps everything framed from Stallworth’s perspective, his transforming relationship with Zimmerman is incredible to watch. Evolving from unwitting, to casual, to deep respect, their partnership creates a portrait of unity that becomes a plea for empathy and solidarity.

BlacKkKlansman review David Duke Topher GraceHelping to navigate the film’s shifting tones and twisty plotting, is an ensemble pulling in breathtaking work. John David Washington is utterly breathtaking as Stallworth. Washington exudes an everyman quality, tip-toeing the film’s more absurd moments with a straight face and understated comedic chops. There’s an authority in his voice and presence that runs circles around everyone in the room, and we can’t help but gravitate towards his charisma and intellect. Opposite, Adam Driver’s Zimmerman is just as great. Driver acts as an audience surrogate as well as a physical avatar for Stallworth, rooting every scene in believability and making the farcical feel tethered to reality. Laura Harrier also shines as Black Student Union leader Patrice. She adds a strength and resilience to much of the film. In the film’s most thankless but nuanced role, Topher Grace is a spitting image of Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. Grace pulls back and uses restraint, but still manages to expose the inherently silly ideals of Duke and those like him.

BlacKkKlansman pulls off a series of impossible feats. It’s angry, yet hopeful and funny, but also deeply sad. That Lee is able to capture all of these facets without missing a beat is a true testament to his keen understanding of society and human nature, past and present. Part procedural, satire and empowering battle cry, Lee celebrates a story that is a true triumph, but also reminds us that the fight is far from over.