My first encounter with a Spike Lee film came in history class at secondary school when we watched the film Malcolm X. I remember the assassination scene quite vividly as it was the first time I had been shocked into silence. I knew the scene was coming, but the outright chaos and ruthlessness of the scene were enough to make me shut my mouth for the rest of the lesson. Being a director driven by social and political motivations, a stunned silence is possibly the best response you can get from your films. BlacKkKlansman is the latest addition of precise social commentary on racial tensions in America, but this auteur ingredient does not spoil the dish because it is the, as the film puts it, “fo real, fo real shit” story that has total control.
By far BlacKkKlansman is the greatest recent example of presenting a contrast in almost every aspect, it is the focal point of character relationships. Take our two main characters for instance, Ron (John David Washington) is Colorado Springs’ first black police officer who establishes contact with the local Ku Klux Klan over the phone, thus begins the investigation. Then there’s Flip (Adam Driver) a white, Jewish cop who pretends to be Ron when meeting with the Klan members in person. Not only is the dual identity part of the narrative fit in with contrast, but within the character’s personality, there is a conflict in how to approach the investigation. Ron is more radical and sees the investigation more like a mission whereas Flip is more cautious and sees it as his job. Different character contrasts can be seen all across the board, from Walter (Ryan Eggold) the local, down to earth Klan leader and Felix (Jasper Pääkkönen) the more sadistic Klan member, to Ron and the Klan’s Grand Wizard David Duke. Seeing a clash of methods and ideologies makes for compelling character interactions that adds tension to an already beyond tense situation.
John David Washington lives up to his father Denzel’s talents (yes, that Denzel) as he gives a passionate performance that isn’t overshadowed by the fact he is the son of a Hollywood giant. When his character becomes much more energetic, it makes for some great comedy that balances out the seriousness of what is being explored in the film. The humour is a great blend of light humour, but I also noticed moments of cringe comedy especially when the film highlights the absurdity to KKK racism. The actors who play the KKK members are courageous, to say the least, the things they have to say would make any actor nervous, but they take on the role with great professionalism and commitment.
At times BlacKkKlansman was very funny, but it knows when to cease all lightheartedness so that the core message can not only be received but felt. The interpretation I got is very fitting within the views of the state of America today, if we’re not careful then the racism back then will become the racism now. Everything is coming around full circle. During the conclusion of the film, Spike Lee uses footage from the Charlottesville’s ‘Unite the Right’ rally to get his message across which comes as perfect timing because not only was the film released in the US a year since the Charlottesville rally, but it is also the point in the film where we have taken in the details of the message that when applied to a recent event becomes overwhelmingly reflective and powerful.
Spike Lee’s style of filmmaking is amongst those who can call themselves auteurs and the style in BlacKkKlansman is rather fitting with the 70’s setting. Although there will be tiny inaccuracies, the presentation is fantastic, especially in the cinematography where Spike Lee and cinematographer Chayse Irvin nail the double dolly shots and shots of faces on a black background. The editing is great at times, although there are some scenes where it doesn’t feel necessary to be as long as they are, and I would have liked to see some trimming done. However, continuing with the theme of contrast, there is some great intercutting at play.
The film never boasts many criticisms but there was one character relationship that bugged me which is between Ron and Patrice (Laura Harrier), president of the black student union at Colorado College, the contrast is there with how radical the two are which is enjoyable to witness, however a lot of times their scenes did feel like a lot of back and forth without their relationship ever taking that one step forward. The dialogue felt too repetitive and their relationship remains in one place and not advancing.
A lot of people have said that this is a film in which everyone should see to self-reflect on society today. I can only speak as a Brit and not a US citizen, but I think you are required to see BlacKkKlansman. If not for the message, then for the utterly brilliant story from a director with passion and actors devoted to the difficult characters they play. You will be engaged for the entirety of the film’s run-time and it does seem inevitable that you will leave having done some reflection.
Final Result: 9/10 – Excellent
Have you seen BlacKkKlansman? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: Searching