When Spike Lee’s upside-down American flag (sign of distress) turns to black and white then fades away, the curtain is pulled back on his audience. His latest is darkly funny while still packing some walloping emotional punches along the way.
This review of BlacKkKlansman is a second opinion. You can read an alternate perspective by clicking these words.
Spike Lee has had a varied film career that has hit highs (Malcolm X, Do The Right Thing, Four Little Girls, Clockers), lows (Girl 6, Crooklyn, Summer of Sam, She Hate Me), mainstream (Inside Man, Oldboy, He Got Game), and somewhere in between (Get On The Bus, Red Hook Summer, Miracle at St. Anna, 25th Hour). Varied or not, he has always done films his way, with his distinct messages and tones. His latest deserves to be in the first category: It’s one of the very best of his career.
The film is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington, son of Denzel and the only interesting thing on the HBO show Ballers) the first African-American police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Stallworth hatches a plan, almost on a whim, to reach out to members of the local chapter of the KKK and obtain information on how to join their ranks. Soon he connects by telephone and quickly realizes the shortcomings of his young impulsiveness- he can’t meet them face to face because he told them he was a god fearing white American. That’s where Flip Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver) comes in. A detective of Jewish descent, but lapsed faith, he will play the Stallworth role to infiltrate the local chapter (played with some disturbing zeal from a collection of actors that include Jasper Pääkkönen, Ryan Eggold, Ashlie Atkinson, and Paul Walter Hauser).
What makes Lee’s latest stand out is the disturbing parallels he draws from today’s current administration to that of the Grand Wizard of the KKK in 1980, David Duke. We watch Duke (Topher Grace) fall for the ruse, make statements about making America great again, good white Americans, and stereotypes of African-Americans. I wonder how many realize he ran for president in 1988 and made it farther than most thought possible. That was 30 years ago. Films are products of their times and look what has happened in the United States today. The current administration was elected and now gives a platform to groups that support hate instead of groups that looking for a platform to help spread ideals that support hope and equality.
There are times in this film that are so moving they cause a visceral reaction for the right and wrong reasons. One is a retelling of a lynching by Jerome Turner (played by the great Harry Belafonte in a powerful turn) to a group of young activists. The other is when Lee ties it all together with clips of events that are happening in the US today. Lee just melded together a fictional world and pulled back the curtain on his audience many didn’t want to see.
Spike Lee’s latest joint is darkly funny while still packing well placed emotional punches throughout the film. It’s a star-making turn from John David Washington and has a good supporting cast that includes one of Adam Driver’s best roles to date.
Now, I don’t get choked up much during films but when the upside-down American flag (sign of distress) turns to black and white then fades away, there was a stunned silence in the theatre I was in. I had trouble not letting it overcome me. All I can say is that BlacKkKlansman is one of the years finest.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.