BLACKkKLANSMAN Review: 9 out of 10 (Humor and Action Under the Hood)
BLACKKKLANSMAN is the latest biographical crime film co-written and directed by Spike Lee, based on the autobiographical book Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth. The film stars John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, and Topher Grace in a film that follows an African American police detective who works to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. John David Washington plays Ron Stallworth here in his first starring role, but certainly not his last. He is effective here as a man who is driven by his pride but also ethically connected to his profession. Stallworth makes contact with the KKK by phone and works to develop the case against the local chapter of the KKK. Adam Driver plays his partner Flip Zimmerman, who works as the “face” of Ron Stallworth to the other local members. Together, the two work their way all the to the Grand Wizard David Duke (played by Topher Grace). This duality of the two men, the undercover operation, and the friendship between the two cops all work to build tension, effuse some humor, and create for a pretty entertaining film.
The film mixes the stupidity of racism with plenty of humor, offsetting it with the horror of the hatred that is embedded within it. Paul Walter Hauser (seen last year in I, TONYA) offers quite a bit of comic relief as one of the more bumbling idiots of the Klan. To complicate matters, Stallworth becomes romantically involved with Patrice, a local black activist, played by Laura Harrier. Spike Lee has several effective layers working in this film. Since it is a period piece of the 70s, Lee incorporates some blaxploitation elements to the film through the soundtrack, film stock, and camera work. BLACKKKLANSMAN is also a black/white buddy film, carrying many of the tropes and themes that match that action/crime subgenre of films. But what makes this film so effective is the way Lee takes these historical events and allows them to point an accusatory finger at the current state of the country. Lee’s editing style goes back to his auteur roots as he embeds images over dialogue and works to shape dialogue voiceovers over the action to amp up social commentary. A few moments in the film are a bit “on the nose” in terms of the current Trump presidency, which is wholly unnecessary since the film speaks volumes on its own. Lee is calling out prejudice, inequality, and the rise of racial hatred here in a high style, and the editing and directing flourishes (mostly) make the film an enjoyable and unique experience.
BLACKKKLANSMAN is an entertaining period piece that is part comedy and part crime film with a heavy dollop of social commentary. Lee doesn’t so much wag his finger at America but instead reminds us that we are doomed to repeat our past sins if we cannot learn from them.