Hot Take: Chi-Raq might be the most ballsy, important and necessary non-documentary of 2015. Spike Lee consistently challenges you to think and does it once again with a modern telling of the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes. Agree or disagree, Chi-Raq will be discussed which means it’s topic will be discussed and it’s a topic too often ignored.
There are two different topics to cover when discussing the viewing experience of Chi-Raq. First, there’s the film side of it. Taking a Greek play from 411 B.C. and adapting it to modern times to the point where it feels as fresh as anything produced in Hollywood this year outside of a handful of films is an impressive feat. Despite it’s origins being from a play written 25 centuries ago, Spike Lee’s latest is the most modern and topical film of the year. It’s similar in tone to other Spike Lee films but not in execution (hell, you could classify it as a musical, if so inclined). As a film, while occasionally uneven, it’s fearless and unique.
Then, there’s the message of the film. Personally, the film’s message feels open to interpretation and begs to be talked about. If anything, Chi-Raq will start dialogue amongst those who choose to see it. It has already incited influential members of the Chicago community for it’s portrayal of the city. However, there’s references to other major urban areas that could have easily been the setting for the film. Hopefully, Chi-Raq isn’t seen as an indictment but more of a wake up call. Some will turn in disgust, others will dismiss as overbearing but the message is necessary and poignant and well said.
In fairness to Lee and to you as a potential viewer, this is a review to discuss whether to see the film not to interpret the film. I’m glad I didn’t.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Boldest Film of the Year
It’s not the first Spike Lee film to be considered the boldest and hopefully it won’t be the last. The risks he’s willing to take as a filmmaker should be commended.
- Great Satire Mixed With Sadness
The “No Peace, No Pussy” campaign that is at the heart of the film is being criticized by those most likely not familiar with the source material for Chi-Raq. However, it provides for great satire and in a film with as serious of a message as Chi-Raq, there are laugh out loud moments mixed in with some very gripping, difficult messages to swallow.
- Samuel L. Jackson
As Dolmedes, Jackson is the narrator of the film. His lyrical bombs are a mixture of poignancy and comedy that lace the film’s segments together poetically.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Message Is Pounded Not Delivered
There are times when the repeat button is hit on the message to the point where even the most passionate viewer might shout back, “OK! We get it!” There are times where it’s a little heavy handed and preachy.
- It’s a Little Uneven
Occasionally, some of the film’s twists and turns aren’t as smooth as you’d expect. There’s a few moments of iconic pandering that are a little unexpected. (Most people won’t realize Isiah Whitlock’s patented “Sheeeeeeeeeee-it!” made it’s first appearance in Lee’s 25th Hour but will just feel it’s ripped from The Wire.)