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Did anyone forget that Spike Lee is one of America’s best directors? If so, BlacKkKlansman should remind the world that Lee knows what he’s doing. He always has.
Telling the story of Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department in the 1970s, Lee delivers a movie that is at once entertaining and thought provoking establishing once again (and, perhaps, for all time) that Lee is a powerhouse director. Insightful, involving and, at times, infuriating, BlacKkKlansman is a story that needed to be told. That it is told in our current context is grist for the mill.
John David Washington (who must be fatigued by being identified in review-after-review as Denzel Washington’s son) is a terrific lead here. The actor is on his way to a terrific career, turning his star work on the HBO series Ballers into a shot at a career in the movies. In this, his first leading role, he more than acquits himself which is saying something as he shares much of his screen time with the brilliant (and Oscar nominated) Adam Driver. The two form different sides of the same coin: Ron Stallworth, the first black officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department and Ron Stallworth, a white man who wants to join the Ku Klux Klan.
That trick (and it is a true story, remember) drives the movie. While Washington’s Stallworth is the brains behind the operation, Driver’s Flip Zimmerman (a Jewish man that tries to resist the notion that a fight against the Klan and what it represents is not as much his battle as Stallworth’s) is the front man, the Stallworth that the Klan will meet and, hopefully, accept.
Both men have much to learn about themselves and about the world they occupy. Rather than beat his audience over the head with broadsides, Lee allows his actors to tell the story. It’s a good choice. Driver and Washington are absolutely perfect. Lee more than deserves the Oscar nomination he received for his work here. BlacKkKlansman is that good.
This is a terrific movie to watch simply from the standpoint of it weaving a wonderful plot. It keeps you on the edge of your seat. But the real power behind it, and Lee knows this long before the audience realizes is, is found in the incredibly uncomfortable juxtaposition between events 40 years ago and events of today. When the final scenes of the film play out over footage from the Charlottesville riots, Lee brings the movie and its themes in a very uncomfortable full circle.
How far have we come as a society? How far do we still have to go? Lee has directed polemics before.
BlacKkKlansman is far more subtle and, perhaps, more moving.
BLACKKKLANSMAN receives FOUR and a HALF UNCOMFORTABLE RESONANCES out of a possible FIVE