Spike Lee isn’t the only prolific filmmaker to have put out two films this year (Jason Reitman, for one, has done so). But, Lee may be the only filmmaker to direct two masterpieces this year…..
Synopsis: It’s the early 1970s, a time of great social upheaval as the struggle for civil rights rages on. Ron Stallworth becomes the first African-American detective on the Colorado Springs Police Department, but his arrival is greeted with skepticism and open hostility by the department’s rank and file. Undaunted, Stallworth resolves to make a name for himself and a difference in his community. He bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. (Focus Features)
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Laura Harrier
Writers: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee
Director: Spike Lee
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 135mins
Spike Lee is not only a filmmaker. He is also a screenwriter, an activist and a provocateur- amongst many other things. Cinephiles are aware of the fact that Lee is now a master of his craft. After over 30 years in the biz, and 30+ directorial works into his career, Lee has made a multitude of critically acclaimed films. He has also hit quite a low point in recent memory- his 2013 remake of Oldboy was notably panned by critics and audiences. However, now more than ever, Lee has combined all of his talents and everything he knows best to create his opus- the truly powerful BlacKkKlansman.
The undercover cop story here is familiar, but the way it merges with the subject matter at hand is truly fascinating. The way the screenplay portrays Ron Stallworth (Washington) is quite intriguing, and the way his character is built gives us something to take apart and analyze as the film plays out. The most important part to a story as a whole though, is the dual Stallworth effect- considering fellow cop Flip Zimmerman (Driver) has to play him in person to protect the safety of the man himself.
This film is also often horrifying in the way it depicts the KKK- and it is all handled with such care. In particular, one scene which features an audience of Klan members viewing a screening of the blaxploitation film Birth of a Nation is nauseatingly bone chilling, and will likely remain the best scene of the year. The way Lee handles this idea with such confidence makes this extremely tense true story even more nail-biting. The way Lee directs the film, and the way he ties all of his complex ideas with a shiny bow- is masterful, unlike anything this review has ever seen. The way Lee handles this idea with such confidence makes this extremely tense true story even more nail-biting.
The performances here are as expected, fantastic. In their lead roles, Washington and Driver need to form as one for this to work as well as it does, and thankfully, their captivating performances made it possible. In particular, Washington lives up to the legacy that his father, Denzel, (who worked with Lee on the iconic Malcolm X) created for him, as he proves to be one to look out for in the near future. Topher Grace as “Grand Wizard” David Duke is something truly different for him, and he is quite memorable in his turn- with makeup and prosthetics that make him unrecognizable to boot. Most notably, in terms of acting, is the absolutely terrifying bow from Jasper Pääkkönen as one of the lead Klan members, Felix Kendrickson. His heart-pounding on-screen presence at this moment of time deserves to win best supporting actor at the Oscars.
Also worth noting here is the editing- frequent Lee collaborator Barry Alexander Brown takes some awesome creative liberties in the way he cuts this one together. The film starts with footage from Gone With the Wind and other blaxploitation films, and ends with footage from the Charlottesville riots. In particular, this decision ties everything up so well, and makes you view the film it is sandwiched between quite differently.
BlacKkKlansman is a masterpiece, there is truly no other way to put it. Spike Lee has reached his peak, and this is without question the best film of the year. This will have a long lasting impact on many, myself included, and fills you up with the best and most powerful kind of hatred for the pure evil that the film is centered around.