Film Review: BlacKkKlansman

Film Review: BlacKkKlansman

Image courtesy of Focus Features

Image courtesy of Focus Features

By Erik Nielsen

 

Spike Lee is the African-American director of the last 30 years and at a time in his career where it’s been more than a decade since his last critical and commercial success, the 2006 “Inside Man”, BlackkKlansman (based on the real life tale of Ron Stallworth) comes to us at just the right time. A country in turmoil, a country divided by racial identity and hateful, insensitive rhetoric by our politicians, a far right agenda making waves in the headlines, “BlackkKlansman”, is a film set in the past that is a gut punch about the present.

Spike Lee’s latest “joint” opens with a sweeping shot from Gone With The Wind, the Confederate flag waving high, gallantly in the sky, with bodies scattered across the landscape. Now enter Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard (Alec Baldwin, expertly cast) delivering a menacing and deviant PSA, looking directly into the camera with the before mentioned clip serving as a background, often stuttering over his own words, meant to show us how stupid he is - but that’s the point. His words will echo sentiments similar to that of our current President. The message is as simple as it is hateful, there is a certain non-white demographic that is infiltrating and eroding our (White) America. Like Trump said of the Mexicans, Dr. Beauregard says of the African-Americans, they are “criminals and rapists” here to take the land and jobs away from the “hard-working whites.” Lee will often set the tone in the opening minutes as a prologue to what his films will be about and this is no other.

Klansman offers the same lyrical and camera flourishes we see in many of Spike’s best work. The canted camera angles, the needed and missing glide shot, jump cuts he borrows from his structuralist French New Wave forefathers, the free-falling jazz. But, what is new for Lee, is the landscape of Colorado Springs. Following the PSA, we fly high over the illustrious and spacious landscape, greenery and open roads much different than the concrete jungles we are accustomed to seeing from Spike. We are then supplanted by our hero’s entrance. Ron Stallworth, played by an excellent, fun and charismatic John David Washington, carries the movie through in every scene he participates, flying through much like his father, Denzel. Wide-eyed and eager to make a change Ron enters the police headquarters and is made aware he will be “the Jackie Robinson of the Colorado Springs police department.” But to test him, the two commanding officers ask Ron “What would you do if a fellow officer called you a nigger?”, Ron, in his naiveté wonders if that would really happen and the retort is one you have to experience for yourself.

The dynamic between the characters, but most importantly between Ron and Flip (Adam Driver) is excellent, as this movie is built upon by its relationships, brick by brick. What could have easily turned into a by the books buddy cop flick is presented as an honest dialogue between two characters who are distraught about their place in the world and what they can do to stop the hateful and mean-spirited actions surrounding them. Spike wants us to see solidarity.

It’s the white detest of a new future from the Klansmen that may seem cartoonish but Lee will solemnly remind us is still being carried by the tiki torch patron saints of the south today who refuse to get rid of the Confederacy and anything that remains of its ugly history.

Lee does a great job of undermining any one of Ron’s supposed victories. The current of white, racist rhetoric will not come to a halt and we are reminded, yet again, of how broken we are. Showing the riots and attacks in Charlottesville from last year, the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump and the public presence of David Duke all entwined, are painful reminders that we as a country have not come far from what occurred during 1971.

Spike Lee is at his best when he is loud and abrasive. He has never been shy in his pursuit of truth both cinematic and political. What he delivers is a biting comedy that was clear and concise, in what is one of the year’s best and one of Lee’s most complete films to date.

 

Watch the trailer here.

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