FOCUS FEATURES (2018)
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Jasper Pääkkönen
Spike Lee is back again – and boy, does he have something to say.
Never one to hide his opinions and not one to shy away from presenting his thoughts very clearly (and never without controversy), the sixty-one-year-old returns with BlacKkKlansman – an adaptation of the real-life story of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American detective within the Colorado Springs police department. Whilst the movie is set back in 1979, it’s apparent, sad and brutally true to say that not an awful lot has changed since then.
Being the first black officer on the force in the 1970’s was never going to be an easy fit for Ron Stallworth (Washington). Immediately facing racism from his fellow officers, he moves from the records room to an undercover infiltration of a local black student union rally before eventually being assigned to the intelligence department. Along the way he meets the head of the black student union, Patrice Dumas (Harrier), with whom he develops a close bond, and fellow cop Flip Zimmerman (Driver) who becomes his running mate throughout the movie. When Stallworth notices a call to join the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan, he can’t deny himself the chance to expose them for what they are – and it’s he and Zimmerman who team up to infiltrate the Klan and begin their work from within.
A great balance of low-key buddy cop japes and utterly solemn storytelling, BlacKkKlansman is a story from the 70’s that needed to be told today. The sad realisation that the events happening on screen still resonate hard today is a powerful feeling and Lee captures this and presents it excellently. With a super lead trio of Washington, Driver, and Harrier, the movie thunders through its runtime and never loses its impetus as Stallworth and Flip move deeper within the KKK and the walls start to close in on them. Sharply written and chilling, yet at the same time entertaining, this is Spike Lee back to his furious best.
The chemistry between Washington and Driver is first-class and the scenes with the two of them on-screen together are gold. Washington has his father’s screen presence and is magnetic to watch – his back-and-forth between cop/infiltrator and burgeoning relationship with activist Patrice is brilliantly portrayed - and Driver once again proves what a fine actor he is as a Jewish American grappling with the new knowledge that he has been idle for too long in the face of hate. Across the board, the performances are excellent, with Laura Harrier and Topher Grace standing out in two very different roles and the cast do a fine job with the stimulating material they are given.
The writing is incisive and cutting throughout. The KKK aren’t written as exaggerated super criminals and the police aren’t portrayed as the heroes here. It’s plainly obvious that the KKK are a ridiculous bunch of losers (mild) – however, what BlacKkKlansman does so well is to highlight just how terrifying they are as a group with their unmoving belief in the radical ideals that they follow. The first time the infamous gowns make an appearance is chilling (even though they look just a bit silly) and the staunch principles the Klan adhere to are presented solidly and they too are written very well. To counteract the heaviness, moments of levity are injected throughout the movie and, crucially, never feel out of place, everything feels organic here.
Simply put, the movie will keep you engaged and gripped throughout all the way up to its gut punch ending – seriously, it’s a furiously frustrating and sad finale to such a marvellous piece of work. BlacKkKlansman is a movie set decades ago, but it’s still viciously NOW. This is a seething account of a true story complete with fine performances, penetrating writing and (sadly) timely messages – it’s unmissable.
September 7th 2018