If you would like to read Daniel Azbel’s earlier review of BlacKkKlansman, click here.
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
BlacKkKlansman is easily one of the biggest films of the year so far, not only for its timeliness but as a return for Spike Lee. Releasing on the weekend of the anniversary of the tragic events of Charlottesville, Virginia, this film based on a true story from the 1970s still manages to be timely today. The story here was about a man named Ron Stallworth (Washington), the first African-American detective on the Colorado Springs Police Department. What was special about him was how he was able to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan with the help of fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Driver) who posed as Stallworth during interactions with klan members.
The film may be heavy social commentary wise but for the most part is a comedy until it isn’t. The film’s premise and watching it play out is hilarious initially though over the course of the film, it becomes less funny as the sad truth begins to sink in. Everyone pretty much knows how the KKK are bad people so this film doesn’t offer anything new in that regard other than their “greatest hits’, for lack of a better word. While the argument could be made that some of their depictions border on caricaturish, those depictions were kept at a minimum.
While the film offered one perspective with the klan, it offered another with Stallworth falling for a vocal student activist with a dislike for police officers named Patrice Dumas (Harrier). The paths of Stallworth and Zimmerman were very similar and compelling to watch despite both having a lot going on to them until they inevitably converged. Because of the story’s convoluted nature, it wasn’t nearly as impactful as it could have been with its social commentary. The story did manage to squeeze in a few well-placed jabs at today’s current political climate though.
When you strip everything else away, the story is about an ambitious and principled man trying to overcome the racism of the time to make a name of himself. This obviously served as motivation for taking on the klan. This was the more compelling part of the story but the film failed to find the right balance. Stallworth and Zimmerman were fun to watch together. Their subplots were also suspenseful to watch as there were plenty of close calls throughout. The camera work and especially the soundtrack helped to heighten the suspense. The outcome may have been clear, however, it was still very satisfying.
The best part of the film was the performances, especially that of John David Washington as Stallworth. Washington (perhaps emulating his father Denzel) had such a magnetic screen presence, charm, and likability that it made Stallworth an easy character to root for. The film was better whenever it focused on him. Driver was great as well as Zimmerman. He had perhaps more to do, interacting with all the klan members, but he also served as a nice counterbalance to Stallworth. Both Washington and Driver had excellent chemistry. Harrier held her own as Dumas while having excellent chemistry with Washington in her own right. One more performance worth mentioning was that of Topher Grace as Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke because of how surprising it was to see him in that role. However, he was great.
Overall, this is an entertaining and very poignant dark comedy with a sharp script whose slightly convoluted story and tone never found a right balance and took away from its impact though features a stellar lead performance from John David Washington, a name that should be remembered for years to come.