Rob Reviews "BlacKkKlansman"
If it is one thing that surrounds Spike Lee, it is controversy. From his antics courtside at Madison Square Garden to political opinions that can be seen as extreme that tend to influence the films he writes and directs, there tends to be a certain level of psychological caution that is in play when attending one of his films. Unfortunately, his choices as of late have not been stellar, but that all changes now with “BlacKkKlansman”.
Based on the book by Ron Stallworth, John David Washington plays the author in the 1970s as he starts out his career in law enforcement in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Working his days away in the records room, his ambition leads him to work a case undercover at a rally where Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) is speaking. While there, he meets Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), the president of a local group of African-American college students whose voices are loud and proud. Stallworth is not very passionate one way or another, but he starts to re-evaluate his philosophies after the rally, and when he sees an item in the newspaper about the Ku Klux Klan, he decides to try in infiltrate them. When he convinces them over the phone to meet, he realizes that he himself cannot go for obvious reasons. He then teams up with another detective in his department in Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to play him in person while he still does the phone work, which causes some interesting dealings with the chapter of the Klan itself, including hardcore conspiracy theorist Felix (Jasper Paakkonen). As they get deeper into “the organization,” the risk gets higher, the game gets more dangerous, and faith and loyalty are tested to a fever pitch.
This is simply Lee’s most mind-blowing and intense work in MANY years. His no-holds-barred style of storytelling is a perfect fit for this tale, and working with the son of one of his favorite muses in Washington (Denzel is John David’s father, for those of you unaware) was the right call for sure. Having only seen him in “Ballers,” he absolutely is on his A-Game here, displaying Stallworth’s drive and determination while still going through a journey of self-discovery that takes him places he never thought it would. Driver is great as his partner, and the back-and-forth between them is truly amazing. Driver’s character is also fascinating as he deals with an organization that accepts who they think he is with open arms while keeping who he really is repressed, as that quality is one of the biggest groups they hate. From the antagonist side, Ryan Eggold does great work as the chapter president who just wants to stay true to his group while making it stronger, but the real standouts here are Paakkonen and Paul Walter Hauser. The former amps the creepy factor to an absolute maximum to the point where I found myself squirming in my chair on multiple occasions, and Hauser continues to impress me after his great turn in “I, Tonya”. Some may voice concern that Hauser is starting to typecast himself, but he is so good in the “guy who thinks he is smarter than he actually is” role that I could watch him work that deal all day long. There are also some “unannounced” cast members that I will not ruin here, but definitely be in this for the entire two hours and ten minutes that it is on the screen so as not to miss anything.
Some will see “BlacKkKlansman” as a lightning rod kind of film, but I believe that this is a film that is not only relevant but necessary as well. With an ending that could render the auditorium into complete silence, it is important for us to understand the philosophy that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The politics are almost impossible to avoid with this subject matter, and there are subtle (and not-so-subtle) jabs at what would become the story’s future which give an interesting angle to it but did not take me out of it at all. This is a true return to greatness for Lee, and don’t be shocked if there is some discussion of this film (and a possible re-release) as the year comes to a close.