Release: 24th December 2018
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream.
Spike Lee has never been one to mince his words. There are filmmakers with something to say, and filmmakers who just want to be heard. Not all of Lee’s film has fallen in to the former and latter simultaneously, but Blackkklansman is most definitely a bullhorn protest to the face of America’s racial status quo.
Based on true events – seriously! – here is a film that plays loose with a bouncy tone, willing to accept the ludicrous nature of its premise as well as the ideocracy of its target antagonists. Lee uses the background of the 70’s as though he were painting in big broad strokes of nostalgic colour, while gradually twisting the aesthetic to a more muted background that lets the film’s central truth reverberate around every yellow and orange inch of the screen; it wants to say this s**t still happens TODAY! Adam Driver’s Flip Zimmerman seems to take on a lot of the physical risk as the ‘face’ to Ron Stallworth, yet the threat posed by the ‘Klan’ never really manifests. In comparison to, say, Daniel Radcliffe’s Imperium, it’s as Flip is in no danger at all. On initial viewing this seemed problematic; how can one see these evil bigots as a danger to society as a whole when you wish to depict them as bubbling idiots? Yet with some reflection, this choice feels significant. The narrative is that of the white man’s threat to the black community. This is not a story about Flip. He is a bi-product of Ron’s needs, so we should be less concerned about his wellbeing. With that in mind, Blackkklansman has two key scenes. One is an empowering rant from Corey Hawkins and the other involves Harry Belafonte recounting a horrific tale of unspeakable evils.
There are some weaker elements. The central love story seems like treading water, and Ron seems to spend a lot of his time chained to a desk. John David Washington is without a doubt the best thing in the whole film, so it is a shame that we do not get to see more of him. Blackkklansman is one of those rare films where as a viewer you wish it could be longer.
It would be easy to chalk up a lot of Blackkklansman’s power to its ethical potency, or even the timing of its release. But the truth is that this is a funny, touching, charming and cheeky little film that sneaks up with a baseball bat and beats honesty out of its 3rd act. Film like this are important because these issues are not going away, and we need to be reminded of our humanity or lack thereof. And if that comes in the guise of a well-made, well-acted, period romp; then so be it.
Film Grade: B+
A miniscule Making Of offers some nice tidbits, and a Trailer??? offers absolutely nothing.
Special Features Grade: D-
Spike Lee might have just made his most accessible, enjoyable and affecting film to date. Shame the special features suck.