BlacKKklansman Review: Provocative Undercover Story
BlacKKklansman is based off the true story of Ron Stalworth (John David Washington, Denzel Washington’s son), an African American officer from Colorado, who along with the help of another police officer, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the 1970’s. A thought provoking, even sometimes surprisingly funny film, with a terrific lead performance from John David Washington. Like most of director Spike Lee’s films, BlacKKklansman wears its not so subtle themes heavily on its shoulders, but it’s also a real winner, and for a two hour + film, it is terrifically paced.
BlacKKklansman begins with a screening of old vintage black and white propaganda video with actor, Alec Baldwin, as a racist doctor warning people about the incoming “minority invasion”. This is a pretty great set-up for the rest of the tone of the film which is a lot of social commentary, blended with consistent discussions of “bringing it back to the whites”, and even some really good detective work. Unsurprisingly, for a movie featuring the KKK, the film is loaded with a lot of “white and black power” quotes, even featuring references to the Black Panthers, and a lot of “make America white again” speeches. Sounds, familiar, right?
John David Washington doesn’t look much like his father, Denzel, though he does sound like him. If this film is any indication, he’s a star in the making. Ron Stalworth is a black cop in a sea of white ones. He is also a Black Rights supporter, but a cop trying to do his job, and this is evident through David’s performance. He partners up with Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), and together the two try to take down the KKK, at the time led by David Duke (played by Topher Grace, who astonishingly looks quite like Duke). One of my favorite and funniest aspects of the film was seeing Stalworth and Zimmerman pretending to be each other without much success, as part of their undercover mission. The hilarity of the fact that everyone falls for this scheme has to have been intentional, and it came off like they weren’t even trying. Steve Buscemi’s identical brother, Michael, also plays another cop, and remarkably, he looks and acts just like Steve! Additionally, Laura Harrier shows up as an admirer of Stalwart’s, whom she met at a Black Panther rally. One of my favorite scenes is when they start discussing “Blacksploitation films” like Shaft and Superfly, and the posters for said films appear in the background. I thought that was a very nice and timely reference.
The movie’s editing is nothing short of excellent and moves at a brisk pace. A lot of this is because of the film’s script, which goes from (point) A to (point) B straight from the beginning where the undercover plot is set-up. If there’s anything about this film that deserves an Oscar nomination, it is for it’s editing by frequent Spike Lee collaborator, Barry Alexander Brown. It’s fantastic.
Jazz musician Terence Blanchard, who has scored over with twenty projects with Spike Lee, including films, documentaries, and television work, provides the film score. Much like in the “Blacksploitation films” referenced in the film, the BlackKKklansman musical score has a funk theme for Stalworth’s character, while featuring a more dramatic, darker sounding sound for the KKK. It’s not a soundtrack I would listen to on its own, but it’s effective in the film, and fits like a glove.
I don’t know how entirely accurate BlacKKlansman is, as films are often dramaticized for effect. I do know the film is carried by Spike Lee’s strong direction, and solid acting performances. It’s certainly a film that people should watch.
Now playing at The Nugget Theater in Hanover, Sunday - Thursday at 1:30, 4:10, and 6:45 PM, Friday at 4:10, 6:45, and 9:15 PM, and Saturday at 1:30, 4:10, 6:45, and 9:15 PM.