BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018) 4/5
Spike Lee’s return to the centre stage of film is definitely a timely addition to his already provocative cannon. The narrative follows the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first black police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department. As Ron becomes somewhat of a novelty in regards to his race, he is given the grunt jobs of filing reports and, generally, trying to survive on the bottom of the food chain. This quiet existence in the force is disrupted by racism in the office and a general ambivalence, he decides to take the initiative to become an undercover agent.
Leading to a somewhat awkward telephone conversation with the local head of KKK chapter, he and his partner Philip ‘Flip’ Zimmerman (Adam Driver) must act together to infiltrate them to expose their terroristic tendencies. Flip serves as the face to face contact and Ron, controlling all of the discussions over the phone. Their investigations unravel the cities racist undercurrents and explores the tensions that exist.
Generally speaking, this film is shocking not only because of the rhetoric of some of its characters, but the parallels with the current Trump administrations divisive attitude. Lee crafts a film that forces the audience to continually negotiate and compare both time periods and ask ourselves, ‘what has actually changed?’
This is done to great effect with the editing by Barry Brown (Oldboy, Inside Man, Malcolm X) and the cinematography by Chayse Irvin (Beyonce’s Lemonade). Both men create a world whereby we are wrapped into the characters, their experiences and points of view. The parallels to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970’s has clearly influenced this film and it aids in the slightly exaggerated sequences of both dramatic tension and comedy.
There are moments, however, that this tightrope walk between the comedy and drama becomes a little uneven, plus, some of the most tense moments are bogged down with long monologues that could be made just a tad shorter.
In sum, the performances by Driver and Washington are outstanding here and are worthy of the awards attention they will no doubt receive. However, there are tonal imbalances here that might prove a bit odd to some people, as well as, the fact that the narrative could just have been a smidgen shorter.