Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Film Review: "Chi-Raq" (2015).

"No peace, no piece." This is Chi-Raq. This musical crime drama joint produced and directed by Spike Lee, co-written by Lee and Kevin Willmott, loosely based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata. After the shooting death of a child hit by a stray bullet, a group of women led by Lysistrata organize against the on-going violence in Chicago's Southside creating a movement that challenges the nature of race, sex and violence in America and around the world.

Rapper Kanye West was originally supposed to star in the film but dropped out, possibly due to scheduling conflicts. In early May 2015, the project had an open casting call and hired many local actors in Chicago. Principal photography commenced in June 2015 and continued production through July. By late July, it was announced that La La Anthony, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, and Samuel L. Jackson had been cast in the film. The film saw Lee reuniting with Bassett, Jackson, and Snipes, having worked with all three actors on such earlier films as Mo Better Blues, Jungle Fever and Malcolm X. In November, Amazon Studios announced that the film would be its first original film to be release through their streaming service. Pronounced "shy-RACK", the title is a portmanteau of "Iraq" and "Chicago", used by South Side Chicago residents to refer to the area comparing it to a war zone, due to its high crime rates. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel had serious reservations with the title, and asked Lee to change it, thinking it would hurt the city's image.

It stars Cannon, Snipes, Parris, Hudson, Bassett, Cusack, and Jackson. The cast gave terrific performances, especially Parris. Through the entire film, Parris portrays Lysistrata as a determined, independent, and sexually strong character who takes a firm stance, and convinces her fellow women, to withhold sex from men as punishment to end gun violence. The most striking thing about Lysistrata’s demeanour is how strong and determined she is, how driven she looks and sounds. This unnerving authenticity is partly testament to Parris’ ability to give a performance such as this one.

Chi-Raq uses Greek literature to offer bitingly trenchant commentary on gun violence. Spike Lee's latest is all about America's current problem with gun violence, and the film's central concerns – from 2001, homicides in Chicago have surpassed the death toll of American special forces in Iraq with a recorded 7356 murders, all due to gun violence - feel viscerally relevant. It testifies to a stark and discomforting truth. Don’t sleep on this movie. It may be far more funny than it is frightening than intended. A fledgling Spike Lee work, to say the least. More interesting than good. Nevertheless, it packages such weighty and ultra-relevant subjects into the form of a wildly uneven but consistently entertaining night at the movies. All the elements of an interesting yarn are implicit here. From the start, it was less important whether or not you agreed with Lee than if you appreciated him for stirring things up.

Simon says Chi-Raq receives:

Also, see my review for Oldboy (2013).

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