Hot Take: More amazing work from the most underrated filmmaker of our time. BlacKkKlansman should make you think, make you laugh and make you wanna holler. Ya dig? Sho nuff!
We’re not treated to the cinematic work of Spike Lee often enough. It’s been 3 years since Chi-Raq and that barely made theaters as it was released in conjunction with Amazon Studios and made it into just 305 theaters during its limited release. Lee’s musical focused on the gang violence in Chicago and was well received critically but audiences passed as Lee’s films rarely reach wide appeal. His latest, BlacKkKlansman — a film based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, the first black detective in the Colorado Springs police department, and his infiltration into the KKK — actually managed to achieve Lee’s second widest release of his career with only Inside Man, the 2006 bank heist thriller starring Denzel Washington which also bagged Lee his biggest box office haul, opening wider. For BlacKkKlansman to screen in 1,900+ theaters is a feat upon itself as it’s likely we know now (thanks to Donald Trump’s ~40% approval rating) the % of the population unlikely to bat an eye this film’s direction. Lee crafts an incredible tale out of Stallworth’s 2014 book about his investigation into the KKK and provides some thought provoking commentary on race and police then and now.
The film follows Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) as he becomes the first black officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Initially stuck in the records department, Stallworth manages to convince Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke) to give him a crack at an undercover assignment. His first assignment is to attend a rally featuring national civil rights leader Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) while detectives Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) and Jimmy Creek (Michael Buscemi) listen. At the rally, Stallworth meets Patrice (Laura Herrier), a student activist who brought Kwame to town to speak. After the rally, Stallworth is permanently assigned to the intelligence division where on a whim while reading the paper, he contacts the KKK through a phone number in an ad. He arranges a meeting in an attempt to become a member of the group but must get the backing of the force to allow Flip to pose as him for the face to face meetings since he’s, well, black. What follows is the story of Stallworth and Zimmerman and their infiltration of the local chapter of the KKK.
While the story is amazing enough, it’s Lee’s fingerprints that make the film that much more compelling. The filmmaker has a way of presenting these topics that make you think while being thoroughly entertained. It’s not an education but the complexities of the tale are masterfully crafted and there’s definitely a level of enlightenment from the film. Though set in the ’70s, the film is timely as the parallels of the racial divides happening today are not ignored by Lee but restrained enough to not sense any bias toward the subject. It’s more matter of fact with many voices shared and left for the audience to decide how to feel about what is unfolding and what’s unfolded since.
It’s hard to not be biased here as Lee is one of my favorite filmmakers. It’s hard to believe that BlacKkKlansman is his 22nd theatrical release yet he’s only managed 2 Academy Award nominations (for Best Screenplay for Do the Right Thing and Best Documentary Feature for 4 Little Girls). It’s a long shot BlacKkKlansman will get nominated this year thanks to a mid-summer release date that’ll make it hard for the Academy to remember the film even existed come January. That’s not to say the film doesn’t deserve some consideration for Best Director or Best Adapted Screenplay but don’t bet on it. The film will just have to settle for being the rare Spike Lee joint that breaks $10 million on its opening weekend and first not aimed at a more commercial audience to do so.
It’s a bizarre true story with a touch of Lee that brings it into the upper echelon of 2018 films.
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