Spike Lee is a bit like marmite you either enjoy his films or you don’t, I am sort of on the fence with him. I liked Do The Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992), Summer of Sam (1999) and Bamboozled (2000) the latter is definitely sleeper film that needs viewing (though some would say argue with me on that, oh well), but then Lee has also remade Oldboy (2013) I would say that was criminal! And the bizarre Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014) (featuring Rami Malek) it can be argued he is hit and miss, more misses recently, so I had strong apprehensions before I started to watch BlacKkKlansman, I am pleased to say they were dispelled.
BlacKkKlansman is about a young African American man, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington – yes the son of Denzel), who wants to be a police officer, he manages to pass the comical interview and takes up a role in the records room in Colorado Springs Police Department. But he feels destained to be more than a records man, so asks to be moved to another department, initially he is denied but then an opportunity arises, there is a speech being delivered by a Black Civil Rights Activist Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) which the Chief believes Ron should go to, undercover. Ron does well and meets Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier) who is he instantly drawn to, but does not fully embrace her stance on cops being called pigs. Back at the station he comes up with an idea of calling the Ku Klux Klan membership line, surprisingly he gets through and is invited to meet the local leader Walter (Ryan Eggold), shocked but eager to get more on the case he enlists Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to go in his place, even more surprisingly Walter does not notice the differences in the voices, and Flip gets further and further inside the Klan.
Ron continues to have telephone conversations with Walter, he even gets through to David Duke (Topher Grace) who is the Grand Wizard.
What is shocking is this is based on a true story, and it was initially bought to Spike Lee by (Get Out Writer/Director) Jordan Peele, Lee liked it but suggested a few changes and he has definitely put his stamp on it. This is a Spike Lee joint. He has used the film as a strong social commentary on the current problems and issues within the United States of America. There is a strong use of conflicting messages and hijacking of events and propaganda – for me Lee is back on form and he is best when he addressing these issues. The powerful scene of the speech being delivered by Kwame with faces fading in and out is great, as is the juxtaposed scenes of Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte) remembering his friend being murdered against the speech by David Duke and the Klan watching The Birth of a Nation, this is a harrowing scene.
There are also comedic scenes which are light but, you are on a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions throughout the film that you are not sure when things are being serious and when not, which, is where it does fall. The editing and music is also chaotic, perhaps on purpose to disjoint you or not. I was impressed by all the actors here and this is the film where the ensemble cast is worth praising, and perhaps this makes it less about Ron, which I think may have been a misstep. I wanted to know more about him and what he was going through and also what he got out of it, instead Lee has used him as a canvas to tell a more elaborate and far reaching story on the issues of race and hate. I will give him credit for doing this, as it creates dialogue and highlights the issues, but it is difficult to condense it into a film which if not handled appropriately can completely miss the mark.
I would recommend the film, the ending is very moving and there is a payoff (notably it has been nominated for several awards, rightly so), but, I would not class it as Lee’s best but definitely his best in the last few years, but then again I do not know what is his best, which is frustrating.