BLACKKKLANSMAN REVIEWED by KROL
“BlacKkKlansman” tells the story of Ron Stallworth, a rookie cop who, after reading a recruitment ad for the Ku Klux Klan in his local newspaper, decides to go undercover and join the Klan. However – spoilers – Ron Stallworth is black. That’s generally a demographic the Klan doesn’t recruit heavily from. So he enlists fellow cop Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver, to attend the meeting and see if there’s anything going on the police should be aware of. Which, since it’s the Klan, of course there is.
I’ll just bottom line it: Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is Lee’s best work since Do The Right Thing. Equal parts harrowing and hilarious, it’s both an indictment and a call to arms. From the word go, BlacKkKlansman is firing on all cylinders from the top of the production on down. I highly recommend this film. It starts with the cast. John David Washington plays Stallworth with a mix between realism and idealism, but his realism never falls into dull world-weary cynicism. He’s an intelligent man that wants to make a difference, but understands the forces stacked against him.
Adam Driver’s ably plays Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish cop that never thought of himself as Jewish until he went undercover in the Klan. During his attempt to infiltrate the local Klan chapter one of the Klansman obsesses over Zimmerman’s possible ethnicity. Zimmerman denies it, of course, and the film doubles the familiar tension that undercover cop movies utilize: not only does Zimmerman have to conceal his profession, he also must hide his religious affiliation. One gets the idea the Klansmen would be more forgiving finding out that Zimmerman’s a cop than if they found out he had a Bar Mitzvah.
Storywise, BlacKkKlansman is your typical undercover cop movie, at least structurally. If you’ve seen any undercover cop movie, you’re already pretty familiar with the formula Lee and his screenwriters use here. However, what elevates BlacKkKlansman to its considerable heights is how Lee uses it to comment on race relations in 2018. Though BlacKkKlansman is set in 1976, Lee’s film is all about 2018 and society’s attitudes towards race and authority. In his film, Lee made multiple references to the Trump regime. Some of these references weren’t at all subtle. Normally that takes me out of a story, but here it works.
One reference in particular stood out. Early in the second act, Stallworth has a conversation with his immediate supervisor, Sergeant Trapp (Ken Garito, in an excellent supporting role). Trapp points out that David Duke is the next generation Klansman. Instead of wearing a hood and using the N-Word, he’s out in the public, showing his face and talking about subjects like immigration and taxes, but through a racial lens. Anyone who has paid attention to GOP election strategy since Nixon recognizes what Trapp says is true. Trapp continues, saying that they’ll keep pushing in that direction until they elect a President that agrees with what people like Duke are saying.
Stallworth replies that America would never do that. Trapp says that’s very naïve for a black man. That conversation was almost too over the top, despite it accurately describing the 2016 election. I half expected Stallworth and Trapp break the 4th Wall and look at the audience directly. In another movie, an out-and-out comedy, that might have happened. But this film, despite being a drama about a heavy subject, isn’t a comedy.
However, there were many laugh-out-loud moments. Which makes sense, since one of the producers is Jordan Peele, the Peele portion of the sketch comedy show Key and Peele. As a producer, the only note he gave the screenwriters was “Make it funny,” and they did. The Klansmen are portrayed as dangerous idiots that are usually out maneuvered but Stallworth, including the “dapper” and educated David Duke. The conversations between Stallworth and Duke over the phone are hilarious and a high point of the film.
But, at the end of the film, Lee undercuts the humor. BlacKkKlansman’s coda features an extended montage of recent footage, including the race riot at Charlottesville. In many ways, it felt like a closing argument an attorney makes during trial. It’s almost like Lee is saying, “Sure, laughing at these idiots is fun, but guess what? They’re still here and now they’re running everything.” It left an unanswered question hovering the in air: what are you going to do about it?
- 2 hrs and 8 mins
- Focus Features