It's good to have you back, Mr. Lee.
BlacKkKlansman is the latest Spike Lee joint (a phrase I’ve never totally understood — how, exactly, is a movie the same as a joint in any way?) that sees him do something we’ve eagerly been anticipating for a long time now: make a great movie again.
Lee, of course, has always been a talented actor who has made incredible films in the past and certainly will again in the future. Even the films of his that I don’t necessarily like usually will have at least one or two things I’ll still come out praising.
It’s just that he’s been in a bit of a rut lately. While Chi-Raq had an important message, the whole story got so carried away with itself that I couldn’t take it seriously, and the less said about his Oldboy, the better.
With Inside Man being the last film of his that I truly loved, he’s now back with a fiery vengeance, as BlacKkKlansman is easily one of the best films he’s made to date.
The film kicks off with footage from Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation (and if you know anything about the reputation those two films have, you know what kind of ride we’re in for here), while Alec Baldwin delivers a monologue about how being white is the very best race and no one else even comes close.
Talk about setting a tone (more on that later, too).
We then cut to 1972, as Ron Stallworth (John David Washington — son of Denzel Washington) is entering the police station in Colorado Springs.
A couple hours later, he walks out of that same building with a job. The police chief was skeptical about hiring him at first — Colorado Springs has never had an African-American officer before, so who knows how people will respond to him — but Stallworth’s resume spoke for itself, so he really didn’t have any other choice.
Stallworth waste no time inside the department. Beginning in the storage room, he quickly works his way up the ranks to be hired as a detective.
That’s when things get serious. Stallworth is reading through the newspaper one day when he sees an ad promoting the Ku Klux Klan. That gives him an idea.
He calls the number on the ad, connecting him to the President of the Colorado Springs KKK, Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold). Disguising himself as a white man who hates all other races, Stallworth then quickly wins over Walter’s trust to the point where Walter wants to set up a face-to-face interview so that they can welcome him into the organization.
Obviously, Stallworth can’t go to that meeting himself. So he recruits the help of his new co-worker, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) — who’s really just as worried about this whole thing as Stallworth is, as Zimmerman has to hide the fact that he’s Jewish.
The plan, somehow, winds up working. Don’t ask me how the KKK was dumb enough to think that Stallworth’s voice over the phone was the same as Zimmerman’s voice in real life, but this all really did happen. Actually, scratch that, I totally believe these morons would be that dumb.
Stallworth and Zimmerman then work together to rise through the ranks of the KKK while being undercover, eventually working their way up to the puppet-master behind the whole thing, David Duke (Topher Grace).
During the opening monologue that Alec Baldwin is giving, his speech is intercut with a series of moments in which his character will be loudly screaming/coughing while trying to clear his throat. It’ll go something like ‘and this is why white people are the very best kind of pe..COUGH COUGH AHEM GET IT OUT GET IT OUT..very best kind of people.’
While the audience I saw BlacKkKlansman didn’t totally know how to react to this moment, I thought it was hilarious and instantly set the vibe for the type of film this was going to be. It’s going to address serious, unpleasant themes that are very much still alive in our world today, but it’s not just going to be a grim, depressing two and a half hour journey for the whole ride. There’s going to be some humor in there as well.
I can’t commend Lee enough for being able to pull that off. There’s just the right balance in BlacKkKlansman where we can laugh at the absurdity or the reactions to some of the things being said, while also taking the movie completely serious at the same time.
A lot of that is due to the incredibly talented cast that Lee assembled, as I see some Oscar-potential here. John David Washington is the clear standout, as he’s clearly inherited his father’s acting capabilities. There are so many moments when he’ll look or sound just like Denzel, and yet John David Washington is still completely able to make this role his own as he’s chewing up the scenery from the moment he steps on the frame.
Adam Driver is great as he always is, as this was a character he was pretty much born to play. There’s a few Adam Driver-isms in there, which are always fun to watch, but there’s also a handful of smaller moments he delivers that really let us see the weight of this whole thing. The scene in which he and Stallworth talk about his Jewish heritage was one of my favorite moments of the movie.
Topher Grace is certainly given a difficult task here, as he has to play a man who’s filled with so much hate and anger (I read somewhere that Grace would go home and re-cut the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy into a two-hour movie to take his mind off playing David Duke). He does it so well though, as Grace’s facial reactions in certain moments elevate BlacKkKlansman to an even higher level.
As you probably know, David Duke is still a prominent member of the KKK today, as he was one of the people out there saying terrible things during the Charlottesville march last year. That means we know BlacKkKlansman can’t have all too happy of an ending.
I won’t say what kind of note, exactly, this movie goes out on, but I will say that it’s one of the most bone-chilling finales to a movie I’ve ever seen, period. Lee holds nothing back as he wants the whole world today what a messed up country this has become, as we live in a place where the President approves of this kind of behavior.
God bless Lee for it, as it’s a message that needs to be addressed and seen. BlacKkKlansman isn’t just well-filmed and acted, but it’s a movie that’s bringing about change — which we desperately need.
Watch the trailer for BlacKkKlansman here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought about the movie!
'Blackkklansman' review: Spike Lee for President10