BlacKkKlansman (aka Black Klansman) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Spike Lee has reawakened in the 21st century as that biting, scathing, and thoughtful filmmaker we haven’t seen as vibrant in decades. If his 2015 film Chi-Raq was the warm-up act, Blackkklansman is the main course. It takes a serious and silly aim at the exposure of America’s racist collectives, past and present. Lee draws a sharp blade in his direction of portraying the racism that has somewhat mutated over time but hasn’t left us. And it’s every bit as frantic and furious as it should be or at least as Spike Lee should be during these tough times of racial divide.
The story focuses on the true story of a 1970s police operation in Colorado Springs. Their goal is to infiltrate the local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan and reveal the inner workings of the secretive organization. Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the latest addition to the force as a black cop trying to earn his stripes but not be shoved down by some of the racist colleagues. Graduating up from the storage room, he becomes a detective involved in the intelligence department for gaining information on the local KKK. That’s a hard game to play when you’re black but an idea strikes Stallworth. He picks up the phone and calls up a KKK member, pretends to be a white man, and is accepted for screening into the group. The plan works but now he needs a white for the off-the-desk spying, which is where Detective Flip (Adam Rider) comes in.
Stallworth and Flip are both committed to their case that they’re willing to go the extra mile. Flip goes deep into the local KKK that is so secretive they don’t even refer to themselves as such. This leads him down a dark and dangerous path where in order to sell the role Flip must conceal his Jewish nature. A lie detector test with the clan is averted when Stallworth chucks a rock through the window and Flip plays along by shooting off a few rounds in Stallworth’s direction. Of course, this doesn’t impress the police chief one bit and the validity of this operation is brought into question. They’ll prove it by not only going deep into the actions of the white nationalists but do so without a single cross-burning cropping up around them.
While Flip struggles to keep up his allegiance towards the clan, Stallworth tries to do the opposite, infiltrating a black protest group as one of his first assignments. It’s not easy for Stallworth when he comes to be infatuated with the young revolutionary Patrice (Laura Harrier). He hasn’t revealed that he’s a cop to her given her disgust for the establishment, not even hearing out the possibility of restructuring from the inside. Not an easy relationship to establish as a man who must be a black rebel in the streets and a white man on the phone.
Lee’s direction here is perfectly on point to the degree that can not only encapsulate the era but dwell on the somewhat comedic nature of how this whole plan came together, made evident with the odd casting of Topher Grace as KKK leader David Duke. The film has real teeth to its savaging of the racist organization and how important such an investigation turned out to be, despite being concealed. And just in case you think the film becomes too fantastical with its bow-wrapping conclusion, the film abruptly cuts to modern footage of racist rallies with a voice-over by Donald Trump refusing to call out the white nationalists. You can just hear that cranky middle-aged audience member stating that they liked the film until it had to bring more recent politics into the picture. Spike Lee doesn’t care. The events of BlackKklansman are not a fantasy escape into history. History repeats itself if we’re not careful and Lee’s film has the gravitas to speak, nay, scream that we’re stumbling hard.