Review: BlacKkKlansman

Acclaimed director Spike Lee’s latest feature is BlacKkKlansman, the true story of Colorado Springs detective Ron Stallworth (Ballers John David Washington), an African-American, who infiltrated the Klan in 1979.

As implausible as the story sounds, it’s true. Stallworth handled the communications over the phone while his white partner, Flip (Adam Driver), pretended to be Stallworth during face-to-face contacts. This unconventional investigation led to Stallworth and Flip discovering the Colorado Springs chapter of the Klan was planning attack.

Meanwhile, Stallworth finds himself romantically involved with the BSU President, Patrice (Laura Harrier). Her leadership and outspoken thoughts on race make her a target for the Klan.

Racist Stallworth quickly rises through the ranks of the Klan while Detective Stallworth and Flip try to avoid detection and stop the Klan from executing their plan.

With Spike behind the camera, the film wasn’t going to shy away from racism. From the opening scene, Stallworth is dealing with racism within the Colorado Springs Police Department. As the story progresses, he becomes suspicious of his fellow officers involvement with the Klan and their connection to police violence against African-Americans in his community. This is what Spike does best – not just talking about racism or bringing it to the forefront. Spike is masterful at showing how racism affects people emotionally and its impact on their day-to-day lives.

In many of films about race in America, biographical or fictional, the women associated with white supremacist are usually left in the shadows or treated as props – this is not the case for BlacKkKlansman. Ashlie Atkinson plays Connie, the wife of a Klansman. Connie is involved, energized and eager to participate in the same hate her husband spews. Atkinson gives a wonderful performance as Connie, she’s equally reprehensible and ridiculous. Her character shows how racism isn’t isolated to just white men but a characteristic alive and well within white women.

The film’s iconic moment: Jerome (Harry Belafonte) is retelling the story of watching the horrific lynching of Jesse Washington though the window of a building. This story is juxtaposed with Stallworth looking through a window at a new Klan members ceremony. That sequence beautifully illustrates what the movie is about. A lynching in 1916 is connected to Klan activity in 1979. In a not so subtle ending, the film connects what Stallworth and his team fought against in 1979 with racial injustices happening today. From 1916, to 1979, to 2018 – we’re still fighting the same fight.

Laura Harrier is a fairly new face. Many fans know her from Spider-Man: Homecoming. As Patrice, she’s not just brought in as the love interest, she’s a leader in the community and has a life outside of being by Stallworth’s side. Laura gracefully plays strong leader that also needs companionship – one minute Patrice is doing a cute walk-and-talk with Stallworth and the next minute she’s telling him she can protect herself.

John David Washington had star power written all over him since he burst on the scene in HBO’s Ballers. This film gave him a chance to show what he can do on the big screen and he didn’t disappoint. Washington is as charismatic as he is charming. Washington really shines during a sequence when Stallworth has to provide security for a group of men.

Not to be outdone, Adam Driver is fantastic as Flip.  He’s playing two characters – Flip the detective and Stallworth the racist. Driver is excellent as both characters and gives the best supporting performance in the film.

In many subtle and not so subtle ways, BlacKkKlansman showcases the ongoing fight for equality. The humor is placed throughout the script to make the seriousness, especially the third act, easier to digest. What Stallworth and Flip did was radical and dangerous. The humor cuts a lot the danger to make an entertaining story about a black man going up against the Klan and his fellow officers.

From David Duke (played by Topher Grace) to bumbling Klan members, BlacKkKlansman uses lighthearted humor to examine serious subject matter.  The film is a reminder that Spike Lee is the best at shinning a light on the unpleasant reality many people in America live in.

Grade: B+