All power…to all people. Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) has wanted to be in law enforcement ever since being a youngster. In 1979, he answers the call of the Colorado Springs Police Department and becomes the new rookie donning the blues. He becomes a Jackie Robinson figure of sorts; the only black detective in the entire unit, which brings the unfortunate racial doses of reality.
Yet this doesn’t deter Stallworth, who wants to make a difference and not be confined to working the record room where he’s subjected to malicious insults. His first assignment is to monitor a local college civil rights rally to make sure his people are kept in line, meeting Patrice (Laura Harrier), president of the black student union, in the process. Invigorated after hearing, he decides to answer the call of the Ku Klux Clan’s local chapter advertisement, in hopes of bringing them down from the inside. Only one problem: Stallworth’s skin color. He’ll never get in, but his Caucasian squad mate Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) can. And so begins the investigation. One Ron Stallworth, two different individuals. Fail, and they’re both dead along with countless others the “organization” is looking to target in a hate fueled act of terrorism.
If individuals such as Matthew McConoaughey and M. Night Shyamalan can have their “McConossaince” and “Shyamalanissance,” respectively, why can’t Spike Lee have his “Spikassaince?” It’s not as if the director has released only commercial and critical duds in recent years (minus Oldboy which satisfies both qualifications), but so many of his recent films lack a steady direction. Not so with BlacKkKlansman, the best Lee joint in ages combining introspection, humor, and drama rolled together.
Never one to shy away from controversial issues, Lee deals with truly powder-keg material in BlacKkKlansman. This isn’t Dave Chappelle’s legendary comedic skit about a blind African-American believing he’s a white man supremacist for the entire existence of his life. However, the director’s latest feature doesn’t linger on a completely grim tone or presentation. It’s often been said that the truest and unfathomable stories make for the funniest ones. There’s effective comedy—some of it uncomfortable—throughout this film adapted from the autobiography of its lead character, placed at just the right times for maximum levity.
Thankfully, the comedy never undercuts the serious edge of the story. The stakes are real—as is the loaded language—and Lee never lets the audience forget that fact. Shot on celluloid (a sound choice for this setting), his kinetic style is on display, often used to juxtapose two sides of the proverbial themed coin of black vs. white, individual vs. collective, etc. It’s impossible to not see the relevancy and allusion to today’s state of affairs in America, but Lee’s greatest strength here is handling all of this powder-keg material of a script with a velvety subtle touch. BlacKkKlansman rarely—if ever—comes off as an overly preachy lesson, rather, it unfolds as an intense drama with those dialogue moments that give a viewer pause and reflection. The actual ending feels a tad tacked on to drive home a real world message in the event anyone missed it being told subtly; still, seeing these real world videos and images reinforces the fact that this real world story might have a Hollywood ending, but most stories in life rarely do.
There’s no weak writing in Lee’s script, and all characters featured are written as real characters, not flimsy ones or unbelievable caricatures. It allows a talented cast to truly shine, starting with Denzel Washington’s son. For anyone who has seen Dwayne Johnson’s Ballers, “JD” Washington has long stolen scenes from that show’s megastar as troubled wide receiver Ricky Jarrett. Similar to his famed father, Washington has an infectious charisma that powers many scenes. Without a doubt, this is a breakout performance. Even better, he’s cognizant enough to never let that charisma overshadow his co-stars in Driver and Harrier, and the chemistry he builds with both is paramount to the success of the film. Supporting character-wise, everyone from Michael Buscemi and Topher Grace to people who only appear in one scene like Corey Hawkins and Alec Baldwin make a long lasting impression on the viewer.
One spectacular film after disappointing ones doesn’t necessarily mean a renaissance is on the way. But, if we’re on the cusp of a good-to-great Lee career third act, we’ll look back at BlacKkKlansman as the start of it.
Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, express.co.uk, and flickeringmyth.com.
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I’ve never big the biggest fan of Lee’s as I’ve always found him to be fairly hit-or-miss. But I am really excited for this one. Looks and sounds fantastic.
Definitely one of his more accessible movies. Been a long minute since he’s been this compelling with regards to a film he’s directed.
The end of this movie stunned me. And the entire audience. I’ve never left a movie theater so quietly before. That footage made me sick to my fucking stomach
I can see why some people aren’t high on it; it’s a f*****g brick through plate glass that comes a little out of nowhere in a pretty subtle film imo. I myself didn’t need it and it being put in there doesn’t raise or lower my thoughts on this awesome film, but I’m with you. Seeing the footage Lee put in there and the background music used when it’s going on was frightening. Like, this is our world, man. Unbelievable.
IMO that coda elevated the film. It proved unequiovally how times have not changed. Watching that shit made me feel like I was back in the 1960s.
On the flip side to that, man, was that not the most satisfying denouement when they got that asshole cop in the lounge? “Ya got that?” “Yeah, i got it. Did you get that?” “Yep, got it.” Everyone comes down on him. I literally clapped at that. I dont ever do that. I may be pretty dramatic and often have strong reactions to things, but that really was awesome.
My theater of about 10 reacted the same way (9:30am doesn’t always bring a ton of moviegoers). I didn’t clap, but I did have a grin on my face because it was awesome. I’d say it’s the first scene that draws an audience reaction to that level since TS Motherf*****g A Lil Rel Howery appears in that moment of the climax in Get Out.
Looking forward to Spider-Man: Far From Home? 🕸
Should be interesting, especially Jake G as Mysterio.