Review: BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee’s latest is a feisty, fiery, hugely entertaining effort that marks his strongest work in decades. BlacKkKlansman is a prescient, pointed commentary on racism, tribalism and the power that comes with solidarity. Sporting invested turns from all involved, it’s a film proves that truth is stranger (and more terrifying) than fiction. 

Spike Lee. A career forged as an outspoken voice to oppression, minorities and, racism. He’s the creator of some of the best contemporary American cinema with films such as Do The Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Summer of Sam, and Malcolm X (but to name a few), and the beauty of his oeuvre is they all have a message to send and he’s never subtle about it.

Enter BlacKkKlansman, his most pointed film in years and, thankfully, his most entertaining and cinematic to boot. With BlacKkKlansman, Lee gets the bonus of honouring the blaxploitation period and uses the framework as a polemic against the engendered racism that has plagued the United States since its birth and exacerbated by the film The Birth of a Nation. It’s also a feature that has a lot to say about modern day America (the epilogue is a sobering way to close) and how easy it is to accept bigotry if we remain silent.

But that doesn’t mean Lee doesn’t want to entertain you.. He most assuredly does and all the musical cues, zappy editing, and propulsive exchanges that abound in BlacKkKlansman do exactly that.

Welcome to Colorado Springs in the 1970s. Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is recruited to the Police Force as the first African American in the town’s precinct and he’s quickly assigned to go undercover in a former Black Panther member’s talk to the African American community. It’s on this mission he meets Flip (Adam Driver) and Jimmy (Michael Buscemi), and the trio pull off an infiltration that earns Stallworth a gig in the intelligence division.

After a punt answering an ad in the local paper to join the Ku Klux Klan, Stallworth, using Flip as his White Man alter ego, talks his way into infiltrating the Colorado Springs chapter that leads the pair to navigate the organisation right up to its National Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace).

Based on Ron Stallworth’s autobiographical book, BlacKkKlansman sports four writers who revel in its extraordinary twists and turns. This is visceral, in-your-face, cinema that slams blatant racism, its causes and effects, straight at you from the first incendiary moments of a White supremacist (Alec Baldwin) stumbling through his newsreel lecture on the dangers of integration.

Theres poignancy to be found here, too, in the exchanges between Stallworth and Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), the club president of the local Black Power movement, as they debate the roles of African Americans in society and their representations in film and the media. It also treads the waters of anti-semitism through Flip, a lapsed Jew, whose forced to deal with it up front and centre from an overly ambitious (and equally paranoid) clan member.

Chayse Irvin’s (Hannah, Beyonce: Lemonade) cinematography uses its anamorphic lens with aplomb, this is a big screen experience, and Lee’s thumping, jiving 70s soundtrack firmly plants in the period.

All the performances are on point and Ballers alum John David Washington bursts off the screen with the confidence of a young Denzel Washington (which makes sense because, hey, Denzel is his father). The kid is on fire here. Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3), Jasper Pääkkönen (Vikings) and Ryan Eggold (The Blacklist) impress, too, as KKK leader David Duke and Chapter leader Walter respectively. These are ugly characters to play, and they give it their all.

BlacKkKlansman is in turn funny, astounding, shocking, shambolic, energetic and powerful. It’s message, sadly, is still as relevant today as it is where the story is set and it’s not localised to the U.S.. That such a strong message film can be as entertaining as this is a testament to the film makers involved and this puppy is well worth your time.

★★★★1/2

BLACKKKLANSMAN is in cinemas NOW through UNIVERSAL PICTURES!