BlacKkKlansman (2018)
BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 15 min.

Release Date: August 10th, 2018 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Spike Lee Actors: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Robert John Burke, Michael Joseph Buscemi, Laura Harrier, Corey Hawkins, Frederick Weller, Jasper Paakkonen, Ryan Eggold, Ashlie Atkinson, Topher Grace

 


 

“D

is joint is based upon some fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t.” And so begins Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” an adaptation of African-American police officer Ron Stallworth’s wildly true story of his undercover assignment to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. After joining the Colorado Springs Police Department, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) quickly aspires to move up the ranks and become an undercover detective. Taking the initiative upon seeing an advertisement in the local paper for new Klan members, Stallworth begins talking to chapter leader Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold) to gain insight into the secretive society. When initial phone communications prove fruitful, the policeman brings his partner Philip “Flip” Zimmerman (Adam Driver) into the operation, having him pose for in-person meetings. As their investigation gains traction, uncovering shocking truths and lethal intentions, Stallworth must balance the success of his mission with his growing feelings for Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), the president of the Black Student Union who is unwittingly drawn into “The Organization’s” deadly machinations.

There’s something troubling yet hilarious about writer/director Spike Lee’s ability to fuse humor with overt racism. The opening scene features Alec Baldwin recording a bigoted tirade, but the decision to include verbal stumbles, throat-clearing, and outtakes of sorts turns the offensive rant into a note on the fallibility even of cinematic villains. It turns out to be a very effective trick, especially with the reiteration in subsequent scenes (the very next shot is a job interview, presenting no less coarse, racial material), as well as with character development. Like “Django Unchained,” in which Quentin Tarantino included a comic relief segment with Jonah Hill as a fumbling Klan member, “BlacKkKlansman” makes the most of laughable sidekicks, even when they’re despicably prejudiced.

The whimsical approach to grim subject matters carries over to the soundtrack, which is a stirring mix of upbeat, funky tunes and momentous orchestral music, as well as to hopeful revelry in a romantic subplot. Some odd cinematographic techniques are employed, too, which may be artistic, but also take viewers out of the tensions onscreen. The editing occasionally betrays the effectiveness of the storytelling (and even of the powerful speeches), jarringly drawing attention to elements that aren’t part of the police procedural; this is most evident in the conclusion, which transitions away from a spectacularly thrilling climax to a documentary-styled montage of actual footage that – while obviously relevant to Lee’s potent political message – distances audiences from the dramatized characters and their plights. This is a film that desperately needed to cut to black several sequences before it finally did, particularly as plenty of pronounced commentary on current events and present-day politics already makes its way into the picture, organically and unsubtly.

Nevertheless, the acting is the standout component. Washington presents the right amount of humility and defiance; Driver adds an authentic camaraderie and steadily evolving understanding of Stallworth’s experiences with oppression; and Topher Grace as former Grand Wizard David Duke is as absurd as he is quietly terrifying. Jasper Paakkonen as lead troublemaker Felix Kendrickson is an equal standout, creating a genuinely frightening villain through mere realism; here, unchecked hatred is more appalling than typical movie monsters. A departmental blind eye toward intolerance (personified by crooked cop Landers [Frederick Weller]) similarly adds volumes to the menace of persecution – again, a wholly believable antagonism that doesn’t require graphic violence or sharp claws to exude horror. In that same vein, the KKK’s ambitions of governmental integration, hiding in plain sight (an “invisible empire”), and attempts to normalize their agenda (chiefly through organizing with articulate, controllable, relatable influencers with leadership qualities) crafts superior villainy. “With the right white man, we can do anything.”

Toward the end, Lee’s cinematographic quirks succeed in revelatory juxtapositions of Duke and  Turner (Harry Belafonte as a witness to the 1916 “Waco Horror” torture and lynching of Jesse Washington) and of a screening of “The Birth of a Nation” as viewed contradictorily by the KKK and the Black Student Union. It’s funny yet atrocious; hyperbolic yet credible. The performances win out, negating questionable inclusions and historical inaccuracies (exaggerations for the preservation of the farcical tone are plentiful), making this enthralling biographical account a thoroughly entertaining, triumphant venture.

– The Massie Twins

  • 8/10