"Dis joint is based upon some fo' real, fo' real sh*t." This is the crazy, outrageous, incredible true story of BlacKkKlansman. This biographical comedy-drama joint directed by Spike Lee, adapted by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Lee, based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth. In the midst of the 1970s civil rights movement, Ron Stallworth becomes the first black detective on the Colorado Springs Police Department. He sets out to prove his worth by infiltrating the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and convinces his Jewish colleague to go undercover as a white supremacist.
In July 2015, Stallworth's 2014 memoir about his successful infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan was discovered by Wachtel and Rabinowitz. Intrigued with its hooky high concept, the potential for both suspense and comedy, a compelling lead character, and political undertones, Wachtel and Rabinowitz interviewed Stallworth. After several phone interviews, they received his blessing. Soon after, they wrote a spec screenplay, which they then pitched to producers Shaun Redick and Ray Mansfield. In September 2016, with great enthusiasm, Redick and Mansfield then brought the project to QC Entertainment, which would go on to co-produce the successful 2017 social-horror film Get Out. In Summer 2017, QC once again teamed up with Jason Blum's company Blumhouse Productions, and Get Out's Jordan Peele's company Monkeypaw Productions, to produce the project. In September, Spike Lee signed on as director. In the same month, John David Washington, son of Lee's four-time collaborator, Denzel Washington, was in negotiations to star. Coincidentally, the younger Washington made his film debut as a six-year-old Harlem classroom student in Lee's Malcolm X (1992), starring his father. Stallworth had originally wanted Denzel to play him, but was ecstatic when he found out that John David got the role. By December, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ryan Eggold, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson, Corey Hawkins, and Topher Grace had joined the cast. With a budget of $15 million, filming began in October 2017. Ossining, New York stood in as Colorado Springs. This was the first Spike Lee film since Oldboy (2013) to be shot on film. Although the past three or four films of his were all digital, Lee expressed his passion for shooting on celluloid film.
The film stars Washington, Driver, Harrier, Pääkkönen, Eggold, Hauser, Atkinson, Hawkins, and Grace. Despite the serious subject matter, the cast gave terrifically entertaining performances, especially that of Washington, Driver, and Grace, who gave the performances of a lifetime. The three men gave insightful and well-rounded portraits of Stallworth, Zimmerman, and Duke. Their characters are often eccentric; their language is consistently unpleasant; and all have complicated views on race-related violence. Yet they are attractive and even beguiling in many ways, too, with large amounts of humour and intelligence. The film benefits from these lively performances that are thoughtful and insightful renderings that promises to educate generations about the real-life figures. In the leading man category, John David Washington managed to deliver one of the best performances of the decade. He commands the screen, and brings the legend to life. He becomes Ron Stallworth. He battled with race-relations the way we imagine Stallworth battled them.
Smart, vibrant and urgent without being didactic, BlacKkKlansman is one of Spike Lee’s most fully realized efforts – and one of the most important films of the decade. It is an exceptional film, a film that wisely deprives you of the cozy resolutions and epiphanies so often manufactured by Hollywood. The film is complex, bravura movie making. It is also hugely entertaining, since fortunately for us, Lee’s seditious method is to use humour to carry his biting message. The richest and most thorough cinematic exploration of racism and white supremacy I fear may eventually be the end of humanity. The film is Lee’s most complex, heartfelt and disturbing film to date, a drama about racism that is more shockingly outspoken than any I’ve seen since Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). The film’s volatile nature has overshadowed the fact that it is quite funny and a technically superb picture that easily ranks among one of the best films Lee has made. It is as urgently topical and satisfyingly ambitious as it is wildly uneven – and it contains some of Lee’s smartest, sharpest, and all-around entertaining late-period work. Strong and powerful, the film dares us to be interested, dares us to never look away. It is refreshing to talk about a thoughtful film in a summer full of fluff. The film is confidently acted, brilliantly written and thoroughly provocative. Lee had succeeded again. Lee and company have performed a powerful service: they have brought Ron Stallworth’s story very much to life, and to the big screen. Visual and dramatic, Lee pulls out all the stops, but it’s Washington’s performance that really energizes the film, and he’s an exhilarating presence throughout. Lee returns to engaging enraged form with BlacKkKlansman, combining social commentary, anger, humour, dramatics, and over-the-top style in a spectacular mix that uses every trick necessary to put a spotlight on America’s poisonous affair with white supremacy. Lee’s film is worth seeing for its bombastic excess, and if you’re looking for a tactful visual response to the white supremacist Charlottesville rally and the American struggle on racism, this is it. The film is never subtle, always strident, and absolutely necessary. There’s always a moment where the film is alive. This is a deeply serious, biting picture that also has humour at the forefront. The story and language are eccentric but realistic. Even if you find this blunt imagery offensive, make no mistake; it creates a necessary and powerful message. BlacKkKlansman is an in-your-face explosion of anger and humour. Overall, the best thing one can say for Lee is that he takes risks, like all true artists. For unlike most of today’s filmmakers, he’s not afraid to really challenge a movie audience to some serious thinking. If you see only one movie in this season of blockbusters, make it BlacKkKlansman. You won't regret it.
Simon says BlacKkKlansman receives:
Also, see my review for Chi-Raq.