If you haven’t yet heard of BlackKKKlansman, Spike Lee’s racially and politically charged upcoming film, then you are missing out. The film follows the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African-American cop who, with the help of his Jewish-American partner, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), infiltrates the Colorado chapter of the Klu Klux Klan.
Ron handles the over the phone conversations, many of which are hilariously written around prominent members of the Klan not realising he’s not a white man, and Flip handles the in-person consultations that are often tense because of his hiding his Jewish descent. From here, BlacKKKlansman continues as it spirals into an expertly crafted mix of comedy and socio-politically relevant drama.
Spike Lee’s previous films lend a lot to this one with the same witty comedy of Do the Right Thing and the intense drama of Malcolm X. However, BlacKKKlansman improves upon the formula through the combination of the two and through the incredibly relevant subject matter. Like Malcolm X, this film does not shy away from its message, with scenes depicting nazi imagery alongside the 2017 Charlottesville riots.
It is this straightforward and no holds barred approach to the messages of the film that gives it so much power and Lee expertly intercuts throughout with scenes of comedy. At one point, characters joke about a campaign to ‘Make America Great Again’: a clear and funny reference to current political events. Lee uses this approach of comedic and dramatic relevancy to consistently remind audiences that this same racism and violence does still exist today, even if it is not as prominent.
On the technical side, BlacKKKlansman stands up as well, the cinematography and directing are functional and although there are few standout shots, the overall look is clean with little to no out of place shots or lighting. The editing of the film is done incredibly well and the acting is surprisingly fun and engaging. The soundtrack too is brilliant and in true Spike Lee fashion contains an unreleased Prince song that coincidentally ties into one of the film’s most powerful scenes. In said scene, the ethereal song plays over footage of the 2017 Charlottesville riots as the film closes out, a strong message on domestic terrorism and white silence that left most everyone in the theatre speechless.
The main downside of the film comes in the form of the writing, or narrative. This a result of the film’s messages taking priority rather than the story. For example, a side-plot regarding a romance between Ron and Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier, Spider-Man Homecoming) comes across as having needed more exploration and some more focus on Adam Driver’s character and his exploration of his heritage would have benefited the narrative greatly.
In all, BlacKKKlansman is one of the best films of 2018 so far and stands a strong chance of major awards buzz because of its incredibly relevant and strongly depicted messages, fun and energetic acting, great comedy, superb soundtrack, and solid directing.
Spike Lee has achieved a new career high with this film that shines despite small narrative failures because of its strong and incredibly relevant message, solid performances, great editing and good cinematography.