Director: Spike Lee
Talent: David Washington, Adam Driver, Corey Hawkins, Alec Baldwin
Released: 24 August
Spike Lee has always used his films as a platform to highlight racial issues and BlacKkKlansman is no exception. Unfortunately, like most Lee joints, it struggles to combine its disparate plotlines and righteous fury into a cohesive whole.
Set in the 1970s, the film follows Ron Stallworth (David Washington), the first black cop to join the Colorado Police Department, as he mounts an undercover investigation into the Klu-Klux Klan. Stallworth courts the group through phone calls while his colleague Flip Zimmerman (Driver) poses as Ron in face-to-face meetings. Together they aim to take down the Klan from the inside.
It’s as high-concept a premise as they come but though the film occasionally mines the absurdity of black and Jewish men infiltrating the Klan, Lee knows that racism is no laughing matter. Rather Klansman becomes an endurance test of sorts, as these men are forced to withstand every imaginable slur on their ethnicity, with few moments of levity in between. It’s a shame then that the undercover aspects are so undercooked; Lee offers little into the psychology of these men as they undertake such a gruelling assignment and tensions within the investigation remain at a low simmer for most of the runtime.
And yet the film is capable of moments of great power, usually when Lee allows his actors to take center stage. Corey Hawkins is captivating as Kwame Ture in an extended crowd address, and Harry Belafonte delivers one of the most powerful scenes in the film, describing a lynching that’s intercut with ghoulish minstrel scenes from Birth of a Nation.
Most devastating of all is the ending, a chilling denouement that denounces any post-racial messages found in historical films of this type. It’s a call to arms from Lee, one that makes BlacKkKlansman essential viewing, flaws and all.
Words: Jack O’Higgins