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Review: BlacKkKlansman

Poster image from Focus Features' BLACKKKLANSMAN

My feelings on Spike Lee have always consisted of the belief that when his artistic endeavors are more subdued, he’s able to create his best and most appealing work. He sometimes has a tendency to allow his artistic desires and love for creativity get a bit out of hand to the point where he loses control of what he has to work with. When he’s able to control it, his filmmaking skills are able to shine through like they do with BlacKkKlansman and we get to see why he’s been around as long as he has been.

In this film, we follow Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American detective on the Colorado Springs Police Department. He desperately wants to make a difference, and to do that, he  decides to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan and become a member. In gaining their trust and respect over time, he gains a level access that will require him to attend meetings. Seeing as he obviously can’t actually do that, he enlists the help of Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a fellow officer to go in his place. Together, these two set out to learn about the complexities of the infamous group, but on this journey, they also find out more about themselves and where they stand within their own communities.

As I essentially stated earlier, BlacKkKlansman is one of these instances where he maintains a firm grasp on his project. By handling this the way he does, we’re able to see just how great he can still be. Now, there is a bit of his usual style included that you’ll see in all of his movies, but they’re never an intricate part of what we get here. Instead of it being a focal point, the stylized aspects of his work pop out on a couple of occasions, but they end up disappearing back into the shadows to allow the story to have the spotlight.

It’s all contained and delivered as you would hope it would be. One thing that actually helps is how the racists characters are handled. He could have chosen to present them in an animated or extreme fashion, but he presents them as people who view their beliefs in a casual way that seems to be a daily part of their lives. And when you take into account that this is based on a true story, this was the way to go about illustrating this since it actually highlights the ignorance and stupidity of the guys who actually think this way.

This approach also makes the characters more believable and organically opens itself up to the comedy that’s included. The amount of comedy is actually somewhat surprising. When you think about the actual story, it’s easy to understand why having this aim for laughs as much as it does fits. I mean, the antagonists here were not only idiots for what they believed in, but this specific group was actually fooled in way that you wouldn’t believe was possible.

As good as this movie is, I actually didn’t find the acting to be spectacular or anything. It’s solid “across the board,” but there are no performances that truly standout. This could hinder some films, but this approach to acting fits in this case based on what the movie is. Like the film, there’s a constant feel of confidentiality that flows through every segment of just about every story-line. Both sides are working undercover, so there wouldn’t be too much room for characters to really explode the way they might be able to in other situations.

I didn’t know anything about this story before watching the movie, but I did look into it more afterward. Even before I did that, I did notice that some things in the movie were likely exaggerated, condensed, or only added to the movie for cinematic purposes. In a couple of ways, these have an effect on the film as a whole. Most of what’s added assists in making this better, but a couple of things could have been eliminated if they didn’t actually happen.

I won’t go into specifics about any of that, but I will say that these features in movies are always important to me since I would prefer that films based on true stories stay as true as they possibly can. In the case of BlacKkKlansman, there was a bit of a mixed reaction from me simply because of it works in some ways, but at least one added aspect hurts it. Regardless of how I feel about it, I think most won’t take issue with any of the additions that I did since they don’t necessarily take away from the content in the movie.

Coming into the film, I was worried about Spike’s ability to give us something of good quality. I came out of it hoping that it would get the attention it deserved. Not only is BlacKkKlansman great, it’s also one of the best films ever crafted by the hands of Spike Lee. Out of his entire collection of films, the only two that I would definitively put ahead of it are Malcolm X and He Got Game in that order. There may be a couple that could compete with it for that third spot, but that’s about it.

Rating: R

Director: Spike Lee

Cast:
John David Washington
Adam Driver
Laura Harrier
Topher Grace
Jasper Pääkkönen
Corey Hawkins
Paul Walter Hauser
Ryan Eggold
Ashlie Atkinson
Robert John Burke
Nicholas Turturro
Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Alec Baldwin
Harry Belafonte
Ken Garito

Film Length: 135 minutes

Release Date: August 10, 2018

Distributor: Focus Features

  • Score - 8/10
    8/10
8/10
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