For the past thirty years, Spike Lee films have been anything but subtle. While some movies touch on sensitive subjects such as racism, race relations, and other political issues with honest delicacy, Lee strikes with a hammer. Lee’s latest joint, BlacKkKlansman, might be set four decades ago but its passionate message couldn’t be any more relevant- and its rage more justified.
This review will be spoiler-free.
Based on a true story, BlacKkKlansman is about Ron Stallworth, an African-American police detective in Colorado Springs Police Department in the ’70s. After being assigned to go undercover to a local civil rights rally, Ron comes across a newspaper advertisement to join the Ku Klux Klan. Using a telephone, he poses as a white racist eager to join. Because Stallworth cannot go himself, he enlists his fellow officer in intelligence, Flip Zimmerman, to pose as him in order to infiltrate and expose the local Klan chapter.
The lead role is played by John David Washington, son of Denzel. He has certainly inherited his father’s cool poise and charisma, providing energy to his first lead actor role. He portrays his character as smart, resourceful, driven, and possessing a mind of his own. His lines are sharp and vocal presence stands out in each scene he’s in.
Flip Zimmerman, the white, Jewish partner of Stallworth, is played by Adam Driver, who continues to prove that he has depth in his acting ability. His character was hesitant to help out Stallworth and get behind his cause, despite the fact that he is Jewish. Eventually, he is eventually won over and becomes a team player in the fight against injustice. His role acts as a beacon in the film and audience, drawing people to action and/or telling them to take a stand in the fight. Between last year’s Logan Lucky, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and now BlacKkKlansman, Driver’s rise among the acting ranks looks promising.
Topher Grace gives the best performance besides Washington, playing Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke. The businessman behind this group of hate had Grace’s charisma all over it, and unlike Spider-Man 3, he works well as the primary “villain”. Grace plays Duke sincerely in his intentions, his convictions, and executing them with satirical perfection.
While there are some creative adaptations that come with the film making process, the core of what happened remains unchanged and the message not lost. Spike Lee takes satirical jabs at the Klan, their ideals and tactics throughout the narrative of the movie. While I don’t think many moviegoers will feel bad for the Klansmen watching this film, they can at least understand what they believe. Their motivations and beliefs are laid out and they don’t deviate. When you think about the social climate of today, it’s terrifying to see comparisons in this film and realize that the fight for social justice has never gone away.
BlacKkKlansman is like capturing energy in a bottle. While it’s definitely not for everyone, this movie is successful in its intent to stir the pot. I won’t classify this as either “good” or “bad” but this film makes valid social statements that remain true to this very day. I would classify this movie as timely and provides social commentary about the current rot festering in our society right now. As I previously mentioned, you don’t have to squint very hard to see the parallels between these events in the ’70s and places such as last summer in Charlottsville, Virginia. While some might like the subtle approach, the stakes are too high right now for subtle messages. In this case, the hammer is needed.