Wednesday, August 8, 2018

BlacKkKlansman - Review

Portraying relevant material on screen has never been a struggle for Spike Lee, a director who consciously looks to tell captivating stories wrapped in biting commentary on society’s issues. With BlacKkKlansman, he may have outdone himself. Using the past to open our eyes to the present, Lee may have crafted his best film in years.

It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream.

For a film to connect as well as BlacKkKlansman does, the writing has to be impeccable. The story of Ron Stallworth is inherently bizarre in all the best ways, but in the hands of lesser creators, might have fallen flat. Credit is largely due to director Spike Lee’s trenchant and passionate style, a tool he uses to construct this nearly fifty-year-old story into something significant. Lee’s dynamic abilities make the film remarkably engaging and empowering, even if subtlety is lost along the way. 

At this point, a talent level on display is expected from Lee, and it seeps into what he gets from the performance as well. John David Washington, the mirror image of father Denzel Washington, is very good in the leading role. He operates with confidence, a charisma that is rarely shaken in the face of oblivious coworkers and outright racist remarks made by many. Washington is a star, and BlacKkKlansman makes sure everyone knows it. 

The more understated performance is Adam Driver as the more mild-mannered Flip. Driver gets about as much to do as Washington, if not a little more as the face of the combined Ron Stallworth during Klan meetings, but his character is immensely intriguing. With less focus on revenge, and more on just doing his job, Flip’s ability to hide his Jewish heritage behind his skin color makes his survival paramount, no matter how he feels about the racists running amok.

The juggling of tones that Lee pulls off is magnificent. BlacKkKlansman finds time for the humorous moments, some better than others, amidst the horrifying reality. With cinematography by Chayse Irvin, there are numerous incredible shots that build the tension and dread on this perilous assignment incredibly well. 

BlacKkKlansman pops off the screen with a certain potency and assertiveness, a true masterful piece of filmmaking that handles a multitude of tones with precision. A balance of pertinent topics against the backdrop of the 1970s feels very much like a Spike Lee joint, and fortunately for everyone, the director is at the top of his game here, in a final product that’s harrowing, powerful, and vastly important. 

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