Spike Lee’s most entertaining film in years, BlacKkKlansman is the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) , a black Colorado Springs police officer who, with the help of his white co-worker, Flip Zinnerman (Adam Driver) infiltrates the local branch of the “organization” a/k/a the KKK. He does this, by posing as a white man on the phone after he answers an ad in the newspaper. When the local chapter leader wants Ron to come and meet the group and join, Ron must send Flip. Flip is ambivalent at first, despite the fact he is Jewish and has his own score to settle with the organization. I did a bit of research and the film takes place in 1979, even if it seems the film is taking place in the early 70’s. This is reinforced by some of the costumes and production design (the Nixon reelect poster). I am not the only person who was confused by the time period- I perused a few other reviews and The Hollywood Reporter critics also thinks it is the early 1970’s.
Lee has spoken of the film’s timeliness and as a reflection and protest to the Trump Administration. Perhaps purposely making a point- in the screenplay by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Wilmott, Spike Lee, based on the memoir by Stallworth – racism and racist epitaphs run rampant. David Dukes (an uncanny Topher Grace – compare his photo in the film with the real David Duke) grand wizard of the KKK plans a visit from Louisiana to Colorado Springs to personally oversee the induction of Ron, this coincides with the crescendo of the local black civil rights liberation movement’s presence and activity. A deadly attack is planned on the president of the Colorado College Black Student Union, Patrice (Laura Harrier) who happens to be Ron’s girlfriend and her colleagues as they meet at her apartment. This attack is planned by the most vile, violent local KKK member Felix (Jasper Paakkonen) and his gleefully hateful wife Connie (a very good Ashlie Atkinson).
BlacKkKlansman is a talky, genre bender. Basically a period drama, with comedic touches, it is also a crime thriller and thanks to an epilogue full of recent news footage it is also part propaganda. The comedy is never laugh out loud and it comes from the irony of the situation; a black man in the KKK. The film certainly demonstrates the adage, truth is stranger than fiction. There is no reason to not to like the BlacKkKlansman, it holds your attention throughout, even in its talky lags it moves forward. Washington plays his part almost cheekily adding lightness to the pervasive racism and hatred. Lee loves movies, and the film is sprinkled with homage and mention to many genres, including the Black Exploitation films of the 1970’s. Driver underplays consistently, emphasizing his character’s ambivalence about being undercover. Is Driver’s performance a purposeful choice to highlight Zinnerman’s ambivalence for and his denial of his own ethnicity? It could be.
I doubt there will be another film like BlacKkKlansman this year, and it’s great to see an original film with a theatrical release that tackles issues, which also entertains. It certainly isn’t for everyone’s tastes but for the discerning movie-goer it’s a very good choice.