BlacKkKlansman Aug 24, 2018 15:38:53 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Aug 24, 2018 15:38:53 GMT -5
Directed by: Spike Lee
Directed by: Spike Lee
Adam Driver and John David Washington.
Those saying that BlacKkKlansman is Spike Lee's return to form obviously turned the other cheek when Red Hook Summer and Chi-Raq, two glorious, textured works from the accomplished man himself, came out. But those who say the film is his best in years — I'll give you that and then some. BlacKkKlansman is a bold, challenging work of revenge for a veteran director clearly sickened by gutless racism and the unconscionable state of American politics. It shows in nearly every minute of this engrossing picture.
Unpacking BlacKkKlansman is not an easy thing to do, especially after merely one viewing. This is a film to let marinate and stew in your mind, despite the weightiness of the subject matter. Lee pulls no punches in making the story tense, the intensity terse, and the body-blows frequent. Like the multi-talented writer he always has been, Lee can make you laugh, which he does throughout this film, but just as swiftly make you quiet and humbled in the presence of cold reminders that race relations in America, in some ways, look a lot like they did more than 40 years ago. Yes, there has been progress, but it's not enough to mask nor forgive present day atrocities. That's one of Lee's points.
Set in 1972, the film follows Ron Stallworth, played by John David Washington (Denzel's son), an aspiring detective who agrees to become "the Jackie Robinson" of the Colorado Springs Police Department. A bundle of humor, passion, and commitment, Stallworth takes his petty assignments but decides to try and upgrade them by calling a Ku Klux Klan recruitment line and impersonating a racist white-man. His impulsive move soon puts him in the rare position as a rookie detective leading an operation infiltrating the organization; he's assisted by veteran colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who will be the novice Klansman "Ron Stallworth." Flip must disguise the fact that he is Jewish from his new Klan friends, masking his true identity from one of the Colorado branch's main leaders (Ryan Eggold) and a hot-head, violent bigot (Jasper Pääkkönen) who is suspicious of Stallworth (Flip) from the start.
On the outskirts of Ron's undercover operation is Patrice (Laura Harrier), the head of the Colorado College Black Student Union, who uses her restless anger as fuel to bring awareness to black causes. The two meet when Ron attends a rally featuring Stokley Carmichael, now going by Kwame Ture (played by Straight Outta Compton's Corey Hawkins), who informs the energized crowd of young black brothers and sisters that a revolution is imminent. Ron and Patrice's relationship is anchored by a mutual appreciation for blaxploitation films of the 70s, leading to some memorable sequences and dance numbers influenced by the likes of Cleopatra Jones, Coffy, and Super Fly just to name a few.
With BlacKkKlansman, Lee strikes a similar tone that he did with his debut Do the Right Thing. He fills a story with great wit and passion until it becomes difficult to respond to the inhumane treatment unfolding on-screen with laughter. The story slithers along with slick speed and quickness, like Ron and Flip navigating through the dangerous environment of the KKK, until it culminates with a final 30 minutes I won't soon forget. The seventies pastiche, soulful soundtrack, and liveliness from the variety of great performers can only downplay what is ultimately a heavy, symbolically dense story for so long. It's when the stakes climb and the hateful rhetoric of low-IQ bumpkins becomes actions from which our laughter distracted us; that's the real threat the Klan presents. It's all a joke until it isn't, this idea also brought to life when Stallworth scoffs at the idea someone like David Duke could become president.
That move is one of many intelligent ways Lee chooses to tell this story, and he gives us a cornucopia of acting talent to bring it to life. John David Washington is an exceptional young talent, and Adam Driver continues to impress me with each and every performance (he has one scene in the film that shows his explosiveness better than anything he's acted in thus far — a total contrast from his gentle, poetic performance in something like Paterson). Other supporting players, on top of the incandescent Hawkins and the dynamite Harrier (who reminds one of a young Pam Grier), include Topher Grace as David Duke, Grand Wizard/"National Director" of the KKK, again showing his underrated range as an actor, Paul Walter Hauser, who you might remember as the buffoon who sealed the fate of the main conspirators in I, Tonya, as a racist moron, and Alec Baldwin as Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard, who delivers a strong, anti-integration monologue in the beginning of the film.
Other moments in BlacKkKlansman mix political commentary with provocative edge the only way Spike Lee could make so engrossing. Consider a late juxtaposition of a Black Power/White Power rally. In one room, we have a gathering of young black mercenaries together listening to an elderly activist (played by the great Harry Belafonte) recounting the lynching of a black teenager in the early 1910s. In other, we have a Klan initiation ceremony where David Duke greets formally anointed white supremacists as they indulge in cake and watch The Birth of a Nation, which most of them know by heart. Here, we get the idea that BlacKkKlansman is Lee's deafening response to D. W. Griffith's film, which is commonly cited as one of the key forces in the resurrection of the Klan. One can only hope that this film does for Patrice's message — "All power to all the people" — what Griffith's did for the perpetuation of stereotypes.
Driver's Flip is also an interesting character. Although we primarily see him trying to embody the racist tendencies of the fictional white Ron Stallworth, Flip still has to overcome the challenge of concealing his Jewish-American identity from the white supremacists he must join. In a tender scene between him and Stallworth, right after they both receive "their" official Knights of the Ku Klux Klan membership card, Flip tells his colleague how he never put much thought into his Jewish heritage. He hadn't been to many Mitzvahs, he never really read the Tora, and so forth; yet he hadn't thought much about any of these things until he began having to vehemently reject the Jewish teachings. It's now firmly in his consciousness. Ron doesn't say much in response, but we can tell what he's thinking; there's likely never been a day he wasn't reminded of his blackness.
BlacKkKlansman is destined to be one of the most incendiary, uncompromising films of the year. It was about a year ago I was gobsmacked by Kathryn Bigelow's still-under-seen Detroit, which recounted the Detroit riots in the 1960s. BlacKkKlansman isn't a film I'm motivated to see again right away, but it's one I'll be pondering for quite some time; quite a bit before I inevitably indulge in it once more.
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Ryan Eggold, Topher Grace, Jasper Pääkkönen, Corey Hawkins, Paul Walter Hauser, Harry Belafonte, and Alec Baldwin. Directed by: Spike Lee.