There is no arguing that Spike Lee is one of the most provocative and inventive directors to come out of the late 80s/early 90s indie film scene. Sure some of his films are “controversial” but he’s making more than sheer entertainment. He has a distinct voice and I appreciate that. The latter half of his career hasn’t been as successful as some of his great early works but he’s back with the fantastic “BlacKkKlansman.” Only Spike Lee could get away with having KKK in his movie title. And only Spike Lee could tell the outrageous true story of a Black police officer successfully infiltrating a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s the type of story that can only be based on fact otherwise no one would ever buy it. This brilliant filmmaker has returned to his provocateur roots and has fashioned a heartbreaking, but humorous look at racism in small town 70s America and the implications that it has on modern society.
America was and continues to be a racist nation. We’re a country that was founded on racist ideals. Sure our Declaration of Independence says that “all men are created equal” but that has been a fallacy for centuries. To this day certain groups of people are still trying to get the rights and privileges of others. And this is extremely relevant to the movie-going experience that “BlacKkKlansman” provides.
Set in the early 1970s, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first Black man hired to the Colorado Springs Police Department. He goes undercover at Black Student Union rally where he meets a riled up local woman named Patrice (Laura Harrier). Ron finds a recruiting ad for the KKK and decides to call them up. He pretends to be white and arranges to meet Walter (Ryan Eggold) the head of the group. Ron sends his white, Jewish co-worker Flip (Adam Driver) to pose as Ron and meet the group. As you could imagine, these people are the epitome of evil hatred. You will hear racial slurs up the wazoo and at some point you’ll literally become numb to them. Eventually Flip and Ron suspect the group may be planning some kind of attack.
To say the film is enthralling is an understatement. First of all, from a filmmaking perspective, the film has a delightfully grungy 70s vibe. The music from Spike regular Terrance Blanchard is bluesy and fun. Lee employs some of his fun camera trickery that was so groundbreaking early in his career and remains a significant part of his oeuvre. The film’s script is arguably much more “commercial” than many of Lee’s previous films. It feels like a film that those unfamiliar with the auteur could easily climb on board with. That’s probably because the film started from a spec script from Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz. And then Spike put his fingerprint all over it. So the film works as a thrilling police procedural and a provoking statement about American racism and hate. In other words, it’s a fascinating thriller with something important to say.
Everything is masterful in “BlacKkKlansman” including the amazing performances. If I didn’t know any better I would of thought Spike found real white supremacists to play themselves. These characters are truly vile and disgusting and he rightfully portrays them that way because they are. The actors really make them feel like real people especially Jasper Pääkkönen who creates one of the year’s truly scariest villains.
“BlacKkKlansman” is a transcendent film. It’s important, it’s entertaining, it’s incendiary. It makes you sad about where this country came from and ends in a way that makes the film shocking relevant today. It will make you laugh and it will break your heart. The entire cast is outstanding and Spike Lee has truly made something special that will be remembered for quite some time. It’s a truly rewarding and visceral experience. GRADE: A