Original Name: BlacKkKlansman
Director: Spike Lee
Runtime: 135 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7349662/
In a way, you can sort of see why this movie becomes Spike Lee’s late critical hit (not a return to form like many suggested given he has never truly gone). BlacKkKlansman has his signature passionate voice, it’s about racial issues that have been his backbone and it’s one of his broadest stroke, engaging in a Hollywood black comedy thriller style that both is entertaining and has a burning central message. The film examines Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first black police hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department, as he gets himself into the two extreme racial groups: a white-power white-superior Ku Klux Klan and black-power national civil right movement. The two extremists who oppose each other and have nothing in common, except they all regard cops as pigs. There’s a scene right there when Kwame Ture gives a heated speech about their current social issue and you can really FEEL the angry tone in his voice. “If not you, who. If not now, when”. As the film comes to its final reels, the speech echoes hollowing true because the issue behind it still resonates to this very moment.
Ron Stallworth is a perfect protagonist for this kind of story. He has a “white education”, but never forgets his “black origin”. Or as he puts it, he can speaks 2 languages: a white and a black language. Team up with him is Flip Zimmerman (Adam River), a Jewish-American. As to broaden his thematic reach, this is the first time that Spike Lee gives a perspective to the Jewish-American minority and he offers a solid insight by parallelling that Jewish origin with Black origin. “I’ve thought about my Jews origin lately”, says Flip after several encounters with the Klan where one member harrasses him for (possibly) being Jews. This story really takes flight when we know the fact that these events did happen in real life. So many twisted turns of event: like how Ron becomes the first “black” who joins the Ku Klux Klan, or how he happens to meet THE REAL DAVID DUKE on the phone make for some nice surprises. Indeed many of the the film’s humor comes from these unexpected turns.
But BlacKkKlansman is also success on keeping the tension throughout the film. As we see both Ron and Flip get deeper into the Klan’s circle, there’s this crazy guy who consistently watches their every moment and just waits for the right moment to explode. Even a slip of tongue could cause huge consequences. The film makes it clear that although both sides aims for non-violence mean, eventually some members will take it to the extreme because they think they’re justified to do it. Thus, the film is at its best when Lee intercuts between the two forces when each of them is at their most-exclusive states: White Klans doing the ritual and watching The Birth of a Nation, and Black community gathers together to hear about old man’s story. It offers the contrast between two opposing forces that would rise the ongoing conflict for years ti come. The film is at its worse, on the other hand, when it tries to glorify Ron as a hero figure and when it attempts to paint the white racist in the most obvious way. The subplot regarding the racist cop for instance, doesn’t need to be there, as well as many stupid remarks from the Grand Wizard. He’s an easy target to attack but the film tries so hard at times to bring the point across.
The acting all around is solid. Washington makes the most out of his screentime (like father, like son huh?) and everyone does their job wonderfully (special shout out to Topher Grace who plays David Duke). Lee’s still command as a director. The story might have a wider appeal than his usual joints but all his signature touches are there. Especially, there’s a scene near the end where Ron and Patrice heard a knock on a door. They come out to the corridor (in a really stylish “trolley shot” fashion”) to see a big burning cross out from the window. It’s the film most unsettling moment and it closes up the film and connects to the real life footage perfectly. In one of the exchanges, Stallworth and Patrice discuss if the changes in attitude can come from the within. As Lee points out almost 40 years later in a string of events in 2017, things have not improved much. The hate that pulls people apart come loud and clear, and Lee’s angry voice has never been that direct and demanding.