Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace
Directed by: Spike Lee (“Do the Right Thing”)
Written by: Spike Lee (“Bamboozled”), Kevin Willmott (“Chi-Raq”), Charlie Wachtel (debut) and David Rabinowitz (debut)
Filmmaker Spike Lee is angry. Actually, he’s seething. His ire for the Trump administration was evident this past May at the Cannes Film Festival where he repeatedly called the U.S. President a “motherfucker” for his weak response to the white nationalism seen during the protests in Charlottesville last summer. Lee’s rage is more than evident in his newest film, “BlacKkKlansman” – a cinematic return-to-form for Lee and his most significant and politically-jarring work since his 1992 biopic “Malcolm X.”
Directed, produced and co-written by Lee, this true-life joint stars John David Washington (TV’s “Ballers”) as Detective Ron Stallworth, an ambitious, black rookie cop in the Colorado Springs Police Department. In 1979, Ron saw a newspaper ad looking for men to join a local Klu Klux Klan chapter and decided to call up the number and pose as a racist white man interested in the organization.
Once he set up a line of communication, Stallworth teamed up with one of his white fellow detectives, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), to be the face of his invented bigot and infiltrate the group when they invite him out to meet. While Flip poses as Ron and collects intel on the KKK, Ron continues to speak over the phone to the group’s leaders, including KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). Not long after, Ron (and Flip posing as Ron) are named head of the chapter.
In real life, Stallworth kept the undercover investigation a secret for almost 30 years, until 2006, when he revealed it to a reporter, and then, eight years later, released his book “Black Klansman.” Now, Lee has taken full control of Stallworth’s story as an activist filmmaker and uses it as an indictment on the president, his administration and the shameless, racially-divisive hotbed America has become since Trump started campaigning more than three years ago. Lee punches, and he punches hard.
It is obvious he has an agenda, so if you’re part of the Trump base, you’re not going to like what the Honorary Oscar winner has to say and how he parallels the current racial tension in this country to what Stallworth uncovered during his own daring mission. As apparent as it is, however, Lee’s intent doesn’t take away from the craftsmanship of his direction and the convincing tonal shifts that make “BlacKkKlansman” pivot from intriguing crime caper to biting contemporary satire so fluidly.
Also noteworthy is that during the more humorous scenes, Lee never steps outside the real-world situation in which “BlacKkKlansman” lives, unlike filmmaker Quentin Tarantino does with his hilarious KKK scenes in 2012’s “Django Unchained.” Lee keeps things grounded and seems to know when to jab and when to let the disturbing narrative speak for itself.