By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Not only is Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman unbelievably stylish and packed with wit and comedic ingenuity, but it’s also a detailed and unabashedly brutal study of American history.
Ron Stallward (John David Washington) is the first black cop on the Colorado Springs police force and goes from rookie to undercover detective when he spontaneously calls and signs up to the Ku Klux Klan otherwise known as ‘the organisation’. When it comes to meeting in person however, Stallward sends fellow Jewish cop Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). The two infiltrate the Klan and attempt to uncover their operational plans.
Based on the novel by the real Ron Stallward, and produced by Blumhouse and Jordan Peele (Get Out), BlacKkKlansman is a triumph of style and storytelling. Stallward is a lovable rookie cop, torn between the police force and black student union president Patrice (Laura Harrier). Washington brings multiple laughs to the film whether it be through intentional wit, or unintentional stupidity (he uses his own name when on the phone trying to infiltrate the Klan). The actor is also able to convey strong emotions through some of the more intense moments in the film, and things do turn tense pretty quickly.
Adam Driver’s Flipp is usually at the centre of said moments, having to mimic Stallward’s voice, and basically, become a racist redneck. Driver’s character is fascinating. Passionate, but slightly more indifferent to the whole situation than Stallward is, and he’s a Jew, but not a proud one. “This isn’t a Jewish necklace, it’s a star of David,” he says.
The Ku Klux Klan are led by Topher Grace’s David Duke, the dim-witted white supremacist and ‘Grand Wizard’ who’s strung along by a series of fake phone calls made from Stallward’s police desk. Grace also exhibits a hint of viciousness though, as do some of the others in the organisation, especially in the Polaroid scene – you’ll know it when you see it.
Director Spike Lee (Chi-Raq, Malcolm X) effortlessly goes from comic to creepy in mere seconds here. He’s not afraid to bring America’s race war to the table, and actually has the balls to hold up a mirror and say “just look at yourself, America.” I’m not just talking about disgracing the Klan either. Through Stallward, Lee also criticises the black student union for their violent revolutionist attitudes. No stone is left unturned here, and Barry Alexander Brown’s editing, especially the split-screen scenes, captures that masterfully.
BlacKkKlansman also addresses America’s bloody history through classic pop-culture film references, beginning with a very familiar Gone with the Wind scene sporting the confederate flag, and then paying homage to blaxploitation films with Pam Grier. There’s some modern day footage in there as well. Harrowing, but necessary – perhaps it’s Lee saying that the injustice is far from over.
Chayse Irvin’s cinematography is sharp and gorgeous to watch. His preference for tilted angles and extreme close-ups are ideal for putting a hard focus on some of the more intense conversations that really drive this film home. One of the most memorable pieces of dialogue though, and also one of the longest, is black panther Kwame Ture’s speech, played brilliantly by Corey Hawkins. A truly exhilarating watch, and priceless to see in Hotel Thermal’s Grand Hall in the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
Spike Lee has created one of the best films of his career with BlacKkKlansman, and it’s going to do incredibly well this summer, not to mention this awards season. The film had a prestigious premiere in Cannes earlier this year and is screening at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival this week.
Catch BlacKkKlansman in Czech cinemas from August 16.
Photo: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary